Whitefish Energy, a Montana-based energy company located in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, was awarded a $300 million contract to help rebuild power lines in Puerto Rico following devastating power outages after Hurricane Maria.
The contract has drawn scrutiny, thanks to Whitefish’s relatively tiny size, the enormity and urgency of post-hurricane conditions in Puerto Rico, and the fact that the company has no experience handling this kind of large-scale project. As the New York Daily News noted on Thursday, at the time the contract was awarded to Whitefish, the company had just two full-time employees.
Whitefish has defended itself from criticisms by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, at one point obliquely threatening to pull out of the recovery effort if she continued publicly questioning and scrutinizing the company. An apology was subsequently released, in which Whitefish asserted that they currently have 300 workers on the ground in Puerto Rico.
“Whitefish has more than 300 workers on the island and that number is growing daily,” the statement said. “We are making progress and doing work when others are not even here. We find [Cruz’s] comments to be very disappointing and demoralizing to the hundreds of people on our team that have left their homes and families and have come here to help the people of Puerto Rico.”
Cruz has continued to call for additional information and transparency about how and why the company received the contract. Zinke, whose son reportedly once worked for Whitefish, has denied having anything to do with the awarding of the contract and has blamed scrutiny toward him on “elitist Washington, D.C.”
“I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico,” Zinke said in a statement released Friday. “Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless.”
According to an official in Russello’s office who spoke with the BBC, the governor is expected to ask Puerto Rican authorities to pull out of the controversial contract.