The Trump administration is making it clear that it had no involvement in Puerto Rico’s decision to sign a $300 million electric utility repair contract with Montana’s Whitefish Energy Holdings.
“Our understanding is the decision to give a contract to Whitefish Energy was made exclusively by Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority [PREPA],” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a Friday statement, referring to the island’s government-owned utility.
“The White House is not aware of any federal involvement in the selection,” he said.
The White House’s statement is the second time Friday that a federal office has sought to distance itself from the ongoing controversy over the company, which had only two employees and little experience before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, decimating its electrical infrastructure.
Earlier, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pushed back against accusations that it was involved in Puerto Rico awarding the no-bid contract to Whitefish.
“Based on initial review and information from PREPA, FEMA has significant concerns with how PREPA procured this contract and has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable,” FEMA said in its statement.
“FEMA is presently engaged with PREPA and its legal counsel to obtain information about the contract and contracting process, including how the contract was procured and how PREPA determined the contract prices were reasonable.”
FEMA said the contract was between the utility and Whitefish, and FEMA was not a party to it.
Nonetheless, Puerto Rico is expecting FEMA reimbursement for the costs and would therefore have to abide by the agency’s regulations governing such agreements.
“If Donald Trump truly wants to drain the swamp, he should start with asking hard questions of Ryan Zinke, about what role he played in helping his friends land yet another embarrassing and dangerous sweetheart contract,” Ramon Cruz, a member of the Sierra Club’s board, said in a statement.
Updated: 3:09 p.m.