In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, people in Puerto Rico are still suffering. Thousands are drinking polluted water, much of the island (they’re American citizens, President Trump, even though they’re brown) is still without power and many are without food and medicine.
To say that the federal government’s response has been inadequate would be kind.
They may not know how government works or what it’s for, but the Trumpsters sure do know how private “entrepreneurs” can use other people’s misery to make money. As Talking Points Memo (among many others) has recently reported,
A tiny Montana utility company that received a $300 million contract to help restore power to Puerto Rico after its electrical grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria is financed by major Trump donors and run by a CEO friendly with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a series of recent reports has revealed.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s granting of the huge contract to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a two-year-old company that reportedly had two full-time employees when the hurricane first hit, was first reported by the Weather Channel last week.
Both the Washington Post and the Daily Beast have offered intriguing–albeit nauseating– details on the company’s investors. The Post noted the “coincidence” that the firm is based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown and that its CEO, one Andy Techmanski, is a friend of the Interior secretary. The Daily Beast reported that Whitefish’s general partner “maxed out” donations not just to Trump’s primary and general election campaigns, but also to a Trump super PAC.
Gee, why do you suppose that Whitefish–with all of two employees– was awarded the contract to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rico residents? Zinke’s office and Techmanski both told reporters for the Post that the Interior secretary “played no role in securing the contract.” (And I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you….)
After news of this “arms length” contract emerged, a number of publications pointed out that the type of work Whitefish will be doing is typically handled through what are called “mutual aid” agreements with other utilities, not by for-profit companies. Again, from Talking Points Memo,
“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” Susan F. Tierney, a former senior official at the Energy Department told the Post. “I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”
In addition to Techmanski’s relationship with Zinke, Joe Colonnetta, partner at Whitefish and founder of HBC Investments, the private-equity firm that finances the energy company, is a significant power player in Republican politics, according to the Beast.
Colonetta donated a total of $74,000 towards Trump’s presidential victory and $30,700 to the Republican National Committee, the Beast reported. His wife, Kimberly, separately gave $33,400 to the RNC shortly after Trump’s win, and was photographed with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson during inauguration week, per the report.
In the midst of the disaster in Puerto Rico, it appears that someone may have engaged in graft as large as the hurricane that hit the island. Like other electrical utilities, the state-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has multiple mutual-aid agreements with other utilities. It can call on these agreements for help in repairing the power grid in an emergency. These are the same kind of arrangements that allowed utilities in Florida to get power there restored so quickly following the passage of Irma. But even though 79 percent of the island remains without power, PREPA isn’t calling on those agreements.
A constellation of companies, including those controlled by Tesla’s Elon Musk, have offered to work with Puerto Rico to transform the island into a model for the nation using a series of micro-grids, distributed solar, and local storage. The resulting system would be clean, flexible, and resistant to large-scale failure. But, so far at least, none of those companies have the nod to proceed.
Instead, PREPA has awarded $300 million to Whitefish Energy
Before getting this contract, Whitefish’s largest contract was to install a single electrical line less than five miles long. They had a year to do it.
This smells so fishy that even our supine Congress is launching a bipartisan investigation.
Is America great again yet?