Puerto Rico's Frantic Search for Someone to Turn on the Lights

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency has "significant concerns" about a $300 million contract to rebuild parts of Puerto Rico's electric grid awarded to a tiny, two-year-old energy company with links to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

"There can not be any kind of distraction that alters the commitment to restore electrical power as soon as possible in Puerto Rico", Rossello said, adding that almost $8 million has been paid to Whitefish so far.

More than a month after Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean, over 70 percent of the USA island territory still has no electricity. Right now, a tangle of federal agencies, private contractors and island authorities are struggling to work together to get the power working. The company only had two employees the day Hurricane Maria hit.

Whitefish says it is contracting with hundreds of workers to restore transmission and distribution lines, reports The Washington Post.

Critics have queried why Puerto Rican authorities did not seek aid from other public utility companies - as is customary during disasters.

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"Much of the controversy that has surrounded the contract has focused on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor".

Gov. Ricardo Rossello held a press conference asking Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to cancel its deal with Whitefish Energy Holdings and coordinate with utility companies in Florida and NY. One of Zinke's sons worked for Whitefish Energy over the summer. Zinke met with President Donald Trump on Friday morning, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump did ask Zinke about the contract, to which Zinke denied involvement.

The contract states that "Prepa hereby represents and warrants that Fema has reviewed and approved of this Contract".

Raul Grijalva of Arizona, senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said on Tuesday, "Congress needs to understand why the Whitefish contract was awarded and whether other, more cost-effective options were available".

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat born on the island, who has been active in pushing for resources for Puerto Rico's recovery, said Zamot's appointment is "completely appropriate" because PREPA chose to forgo mutual aid agreements with other power authorities - a type of voluntary partnership that allows for companies to easily share resources to get power up and running as quickly as possible after a disaster - and hire Whitefish.

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