PREPA’s Ricardo Ramos cancels plans to testify before a House panel

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PREPA’s Ricardo Ramos cancels plans to testify before a House panel – Nov. 7, 2017

Small power company lands $300M Puerto Rico contract

The head of Puerto Rico’s state-owned utility won’t be coming to Washington on Tuesday after all.

Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, late Monday evening canceled his plans to appear before a House congressional committee, where he was expected to respond to a number of questions over his handling of the island’s power restoration efforts.

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Topping the list: How a $300 million contract was awarded to a small Montana company located in the same hometown as U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

PREPA chairman Ernesto Sgoi informed the committee in a Nov. 6 letter that Ramos could not be away during such a “critical stage” in restoring electricity to the island.

Related: Puerto Rico is killing its $300 million Whitefish contract. Now what?

“He has communicated to us regretfully, he is unable to participate in the scheduled hearing due to urgent efforts on the ongoing emergency restoration,” Sgoi wrote to the committee.

Sgoi said PREPA is now expecting 3,000 workers and necessary equipment from Florida and New York utilities that will be arriving gradually by Nov. 21.

“Having him off the island for the three days required to come to Washington, D.C. would undoubtedly disrupt our restoration efforts — a result we know would not be acceptable to members of the committee,” wrote Sgoi.

Ramos was among several key officials in Puerto Rico that were scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Natural Resources at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. He did not submit prepared testimony in lieu of his appearance.

Braden Parish, a spokesman for the committee, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Also appearing before the committee on Tuesday: Natalie Jaresko, the executive director of the financial oversight board, and Noel Zamot, who was recently appointed to oversee PREPA.

Related: Here’s the other small firm that won a big Puerto Rico power deal

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has been critical of the Trump administration’s recovery efforts, is also scheduled to testify.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House panel, told reporters on Monday that a key objective of Tuesday’s hearing is to understand how the contract with Whitefish came to be.

“There has to be some kind of oversight, there has to be some kind of transparency, so a situation like Whitefish does not occur again,” Bishop said.

The Whitefish contract was the largest to be awarded since recovery efforts began over a month ago. But in the wake of escalating public outrage and a growing litany of government reviews, PREPA agreed to take steps to cancel the deal.

Several lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also called for reviews of how Whitefish was chosen over bigger, more established utilities by PREPA. Last week, it was reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had opened a preliminary review of the contract, according to a source familiar with the matter.

CNNMoney (Washington) First published November 7, 2017: 12:24 AM ET

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