White House, FEMA deny any role in Whitefish Energy power contract in Puerto Rico


Credit: Jamie Dupree

Credit: Jamie Dupree

The White House and federal emergency officials in Washington said on Friday that the Trump Administration had nothing to do with the approval of a contract to help restore power in Puerto Rico, an effort which was awarded to a small company from Montana, which reportedly had only two full-time employees on the day that Hurricane Maria leveled the Caribbean island.

"The federal government as I said has nothing to do with this contract or the process," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. "This was something solely determined by the Puerto Rican government."

At Friday's White House briefing, Sanders said President Donald Trump had asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the matter at an earlier meeting, and was told that Zinke - who is from the same town as Whitefish Power - was not involved in the deal.

"He reiterated once again that we have no role, the federal government, and specifically he had no role in that contract," Sanders added.

Administration officials repeatedly pointed the finger at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, saying the $300 million, no bid contract was the responsibility of the island, not the feds.

Along with the White House and the Interior Department, officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency also on Friday said they were not involved in the deal, putting out a lengthy written statement to deny any role.

"FEMA was not involved in the selection," the agency statement declared, going a step further to address reports that the contract actually said that FEMA had signed off on the plan.

"Any language in any contract between PREPA and Whitefish that states FEMA approved that contract is inaccurate."


Credit: Jamie Dupree

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Credit: Jamie Dupree

Also stirring questions was language from the contract with Whitefish Energy, which specifically states that FEMA, the Comptroller General, and the government of Puerto Rico have no right "to audit or review the cost and profit elements of the labor rates" used in the power restoration agreement.

"We need answers on the Whitefish Energy contract and any others like it," said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who sent a letter Friday to the House Oversight Committee asking for an investigation.

"Doesn't pass the smell test," added Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO).

The White House said it would wait for further details about the agreement, as the Governor of Puerto Rico has already ordered a review of how the contract was awarded to Whitefish Power.

"Once again, this was a state and local decision made by the Puerto Rican authorities, and not the federal government - but we will look into the audit once it is public," Sanders said at the White House.

Earlier this week, Whitefish Energy publicly tangled with the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz - who has had several scrapes with the White House, FEMA, and even President Trump - as the company seemingly threatened to pull out its workers after questions were raised by the mayor on how the contract was awarded.

"Do you want us to send them back or keep working?" the company tweeted in a somewhat testy exchange with the mayor.

A few hours later, Whitefish Energy apologized.

"Mayor Cruz and eveyone in Puerto Rico - on behalf of our employees, we would like to apologize for our comments earlier today, which did not represent who we are and how important this work is to help Puerto Rico's recover," the company tweeted.