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Democrats Call for Investigation Into Whitefish Energy Contract in Puerto Rico

by Frank Thorp V and Leigh Ann Caldwell /
Image: Puerto Rico Faces Extensive Damage After Hurricane Maria
Kids bike in an area without grid power or running water about two weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through the island on October 5, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico.Mario Tama / Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — Two top Democrats are calling for an investigation into how Whitefish Energy obtained a large contract to help restore energy infrastructure in Puerto Rico, according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee, and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, are asking the GAO to investigate why a small energy company from the same town as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was awarded the $300 million contract.

"Recent media reports in multiple publications have raised serious allegations about the nature and circumstances surrounding the letting of a $300 million contract," the letter to Comptroller General Eugene Dodaro says.

Whitefish Energy Holdings has been awarded a contract by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to restore power there. But the Democrats say there are many questions surrounding how the contract was awarded, especially given the companies association with Secretary Zinke.

Widespread damage by Hurricane Maria led to widespread power outage and destruction to the country's power grid.

"We will rely on your investigative work and that of Inspectors General at the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to inform that confidence and any potential steps necessary to address fraudulent or otherwise inappropriate use of public money," the letter said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the Energy Committee, did not sign onto this letter but said she is interested in an investigation, too.

“We need to figure out what’s going on with it here,” Murkowski told reporters Thursday.

An aide to the committee says they will hold a hearing in the coming weeks on the status of the recovery efforts, and to take a closer look at the grid rebuild effort in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The details of those hearings are still being worked out, the aide says.

Secretary Zinke called Murkowski and threatened funding for Alaska if she did not support the Republican health care bill.

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