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Energy firm Whitefish spent $150K to lobby after Maria deal in Puerto Rico

By
Allen Cone
An employee of the New York company Con Edison works to restore electricity cables damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on November 16, 2017. Photo by Thais Llorca/EPA-EFE
An employee of the New York company Con Edison works to restore electricity cables damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on November 16, 2017. Photo by Thais Llorca/EPA-EFE

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Whitefish Energy spent $150,000 lobbying Congress after the small company in Montana secured a massive contract to repair Puerto Rico's power grid because of Hurricane Maria.

In a lobbying report, the company listed the amount if paid five lobbyists to represent its interests, including two former members of House, Dennis Cardoza and Scott Klug.

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In October, Whitefish Energy announced it hired lobbying firm Foley & Lardner after Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority gave the company a $300 million contract to rebuild transmission lines even though the company had little experience doing such work.

The two-person utility company got the contract almost without a competitive bidding process and with significant price markups of certain services.

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The electric authority canceled the contract after the Department of Homeland Security, multiple House committees and the Puerto Rican government announced they were investigating.

On its website, Whitefish said it worked with PREPA to rebuild 100 miles of down transmission lines with 200 power line workers.

"Whitefish Energy has a reputation to uphold and we felt that Foley would help us in being able to have those conversations in a productive manner," Ken Luce, a former spokesman for the company said to OpenSecrets.org, which first reported the lobby reported.

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The company was established in 2015 in Whitefish, the small hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico," Zinke said in a statement. "Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless. Only in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a small town be considered a crime."

On Monday, Puerto Rico's Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced plans to privatize the state-owned power authority.

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"The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority does not work and cannot continue to operate like this," Rossello said. "With that PREPA, we cannot face the risks of living in an area of high vulnerability to catastrophic events."

Four months after the storm, 68 percent of clients have power.

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