Montana Public Radio

Tester, Daines Grill Officials Over Whitefish Energy Contract

Oct 31, 2017

Both of Montana’s senators questioned federal oversight of a multi-million dollar contract between Montana-based Whitefish Energy and the Puerto Rican electric utility during a Senate committee hearing today.

Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines grilled administrators overseeing power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico during the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

During the hearing on this year’s hurricane season, Senator Tester, a Democrat, said he didn’t understand how the Puerto Rican utility, also called PREPA, chose Whitefish Energy.

“I should be tickled pink that they gave contract to a company in Montana, but as you look at the situation: two people, been in business two years, never done disaster work before. What kind of people are on this board? I don't understand what's going on here and I don't understand where the accountability is. We have a Federal Financial Oversight Board -- maybe they're not doing their job -- but somebody's not doing their job," Tester said.

Republican Senator Steve Daines said he had never heard of Whitefish Energy until news of its contract broke. Daines asked Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long whether FEMA had approved of the contract. Long said it had not.

"It’s always one of the concerns when we have a disaster. Of course we want to move quickly. People are in need. People are dying. But we also want to make sure we’re accountable, efficient. There's oftentimes opportunity for a tremendous amount of waste in a situation when we’re throwing billions of dollars at these disasters," Daines replied.

PREPA announced Sunday it would cancel the Whitefish contract, following mounting scrutiny from Congress and local officials about how it was negotiated.

Whitefish Energy wrote in a statement Tuesday that it will complete work currently underway as part of a so-called "wind-down" process. The company says that its sub-contractors may continue work under management from the Puerto Rican utility.