Democratic News

Nov 14 2017

Cantwell Addresses Inadequate Response To Humanitarian Crisis In Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Cantwell questions Whitefish contract, exorbitant rates, and price gouging.

Senator Cantwell’s full opening remarks can be found here.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) in a hearing, called for greater federal government participation in recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

During the hearing, Senator Cantwell said, “It has been 69 days since Irma struck, and 56 days since Maria struck, and both the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico continue to operate in emergency mode. They are struggling with even the most basic needs: providing drinking water, turning on the lights, and delivering adequate healthcare. This is unacceptable.” 

“The United States is a strong nation and needs to take care of its citizens. Approximately 3.4 million United States citizens in Puerto Rico and over 100,000 United States citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands face challenges as we speak,” said Senator Cantwell. “The federal government needs to do more, and it needs to plan in advance.”

On October 24, 2017, Senator Cantwell called for, “The Government Accountability Office to investigate the circumstances surrounding the multi-million dollar contract awarded to Whitefish Energy—a brand new company with two employees." On October 29, 2017, Senator Cantwell supported the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority's (PREPA) intent to cancel its $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy.

“According to a New York Times report, the Florida electrical workers subcontracted by Whitefish were paid 42 dollars on an hour.  Linemen, 63 and yet Whitefish billed the government utility 319 dollars an hour. Even if that figure is abnormally high because it included exorbitant charges for room and board, why would a contract specify a separate charge for room and board?” asked Senator Cantwell during the hearing. “The welfare of the Puerto Rican people to rebuild the island is my number one concern. But I will not stop making sure that the US taxpayer is not gouged in this process. Let’s be very clear about this.”

During the hearing, Senator Cantwell asked Ricardo Ramos, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, “Once the federal government committed to 100% of the cost upfront, why did you double down on Whitefish instead of activating mutual aid, instead? Why did you just keep going with Whitefish?”

“Everybody was calling you, I guarantee you. You may not have been able to receive them, but I guarantee everybody was offering to send people. Practically every member of Congress I talked to said, “My utility wants to go,”’ said Senator Cantwell. “And I guarantee you they weren’t charging Whitefish rates to go.”

“We’re going to have a lot more disastrous storms. We don’t want to see price gouging just because somebody had the really unfortunate experience of being in a path of this kind of devastation,” said Senator Cantwell. “So, I just want to ask you, do you know of anything, of any information, any individuals that might have received a kickback from Whitefish as part of this contract?”

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