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Trees and power lines were downed by Hurricane Maria. U.S. Air Force / SSgt.Michelle Y. Alvarez-Rea

Whitefish Charges Puerto Rico $319 an Hour for Linemen, Then Pays Them $63 an Hour

Whitefish Energy, the controversial energy firm repairing Puerto Rico's hurricane-wrecked power grid, is under fresh scrutiny for charging the island's power authority hundreds of dollars more per hour than its linemen receive.

The New York Times reported that the tiny Montana-based company—which doesn't have many of its own employees—contracted electrical workers from Florida at rates that range from $42 to $100 per hour, with an average rate of $63. Whitefish, however, has been charging the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) $319 an hour for each worker.


The Times pointed out that $319 per hour is wildly above the industry standard, even for emergency work. Notably, the rate is 17 times higher than what it would have cost to hire a lineman in Puerto Rico.

Whitefish spokesman Chris Chiames defended its costs to the newspaper, explaining that "simply looking at the rate differential does not take into account Whitefish's overhead costs" built into the rate.

"We have to pay a premium to entice the labor to come to Puerto Rico to work," Chiames said, adding that many workers are being paid overtime.

Whitefish is also billing PREPA about $4,000 an hour to rent a helicopter—more than double what is typically charged.

On top of that, the Whitefish contract states: "In no event shall [government bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements."

Whitefish's $300 million contract was canceled by Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló in late October after questions were raised about how the two-year-old firm from Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's hometown landed such a lucrative, no-bid contract. However, they still have until Nov. 30 to work even after the cancellation.

Whitefish employed only two full-time staff members before the Category 4 hurricane struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. The FBI is now investigating the contract.

Last week, much of Puerto Rico, including its capital San Juan, experienced another major blackout after a major north-south transition line (repaired by Whitefish) energy had failed. The island was left with only 18 percent power generation on Thursday.

The power outage was another reminder of the island's painstaking recovery more than fifty days after Hurricane Maria struck. One resident said it was "hard not to feel discouraged" and called the power failure "one step forward and three steps back."

As of Sunday, about 48 percent of electricity has returned.

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Earth Day Tips From the EcoWatch Team

At EcoWatch, every day is Earth Day. We don't just report news about the environment—we aim to make the world a better place through our own actions. From conserving water to cutting waste, here are some tips and tricks from our team on living mindfully and sustainably.

Lorraine Chow, reporter

Favorite Product: Dr. Bronner's Castile soap

It's Earth-friendly, lasts for months and can be used as soap, shampoo, all-purpose cleaner and even mouthwash (but I wouldn't recommend that).

Essential Tool: Blender

It has paid for itself in homemade smoothies, soups, sauces and dips. It also means I don't have to buy those individual foods in unnecessary plastic containers. Blending scraps helps your compost, too!

Earth Day Tip: Skip the straw

If you feel weird about saying "no straw" at restaurants, just tell the waiter that you're allergic to plastic.

Olivia Rosane, reporter

Favorite Product: Seventh Generation products

Their household cleaning and personal care products are a great way to take care of yourself and your home in a way that is safe both for your health and the planet. Plus, their packaging is made from recycled materials and is designed to be recycled again.

Essential Tool: My portable thermos

I bring it with me when I order coffee or tea to go. That way I don't have to use paper cups, which are not actually recyclable, and some coffee shops even offer me a discount for bringing my own container!

Earth Day Tip: Get involved

In 2012, researcher Brad Werner ran a computer model and found our best shot at combating climate change was for people to form a mass social movement to demand it. So if you're worried about the environment, reach out to other people in your community and talk about what you can do together to make a difference!

Tara Bracco, managing editor

Favorite Product: Collapsible water bottle

Whether you're traveling or running errands, a reusable water bottle that's light and compact will help keep you hydrated and keep you from buying bottled water.

Essential Tool: Backpack

It's great for carrying your groceries home from the store, and you won't have to use plastic bags. If you have a long shopping list, try a rolling suitcase.

Earth Day Tip: Don't waste water

Turn off the water while you brush your teeth. It can save eight gallons of water a day!

Chris McDermott, news editor

Favorite Product: Clothes from Patagonia

Patagonia makes a wide range of inspired products and their environmental policies are world class. They use only organic cotton in their clothes, and they even offer trade-ins, recycling and repairs at any time.

Essential Tool: RIVER mobile power station and solar generator

This powerful piece of mind is always ready regardless of storms and travel, for as long as one can tap the sun.

Earth Day Tip: Savor something vegan

There's no nutritional substitute for fresh, unprocessed food, but food science has revolutionized the taste and texture of vegan alternatives. For the pure delight of it, celebrate with Miyoko's Kitchen vegan cheese, Tofurky Italian sausage (30 grams of protein per serving!) and SoDelicious non-dairy dark chocolate truffle frozen dessert made with cashew milk.

Irma Omerhodzic, associate editor

Favorite Product: Living Libations's Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Unlike sunscreen, this skin product works with the sun and helps absorb the nutrients from the sun's rays while giving skin protection at the same time.

"Rather than being afraid of the sun, harmonize with it," Living Libations says. Love it!

Essential Tool: My bike

Not only is this an emission-free way to get around town, but it also gives my body the activity it needs.

Earth Day Tip: Start small

Your one "small" action isn't small at all.

Jordan Simmons, social media coordinator

Favorite Product: Sustainable clothing by Amanda Sage Collection

Designer Lana Gurevich uses patterns from Amanda's transformative paintings to create an ethically and environmentally conscious clothing line. While supporting local businesses and an eco-friendly printing method, the fabrics are made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles.

Essential Tool: My paintbrush and set of mineral paints

I found the all natural, biodegradable mineral paints at a local farmers' market in the Sacred Valley of Peru. I used to favor working with acrylic paints until I learned about their high carbon footprint and harmful substances.

Earth Day Tip: Honor Mother Earth

Gather some of Mother Nature's gifts such as stones, beautiful dried leaves and feathers. Set them in a special place in your home to create a unique "altar" to remind you to honor your Mother each and every day. Find peace and blessings in loving our home—the earth.

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Will Rose / Greenpeace

7 Things You Can Do to Create a Plastic-Free Future

By Jen Fela

We're celebrating a huge moment in the global movement for a plastic-free future: More than one million people around the world have called on big corporations to do their part to end single-use plastics.

Now we're taking the next big step. We're setting an ambitious new goal: A Million Acts of Blue.

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5 Environmental Victories to Inspire You This Earth Day

Planet Earth is at a crisis point. Researchers say we have to begin reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 if we want to meet the temperature goals outlined in the Paris agreement and avoid catastrophic climate change.

The work to be done can seem overwhelming. A survey published this week found that only 6 percent of Americans think we will succeed in reducing global warming.

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A fin whale surfacing in Greenland. Aqqa Rosing-Asvid / CC BY 2.0

Iceland to Resume Killing Endangered Fin Whales

By Kitty Block

Iceland seems to be the most confused of nations when it comes to whales. On the one hand it attracts international tourists from all over the world to go out and see whales as part of their encounters with Iceland's many natural wonders. On the other hand it kills whales for profit, with some portion of the kill even being fed to some of the same tourists in restaurants and cafes.

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A.millepora in the Great Barrier Reef. Petra Lundgren, Juan C Vera, Lesa Peplow, Stephanie Manel and Madeleine JH van Oppen

Hope for Great Barrier Reef? New Study Shows Genetic Diversity of Coral Could Extend Our Chance to Save It

A study published Wednesday had some frightening news for the Great Barrier Reef—the iconic marine ecosystem is at "unprecedented" risk of collapse due to climate change after a 2016 heat wave led to the largest mass coral bleaching event in the reef's history.

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Lyft

Lyft Announces Carbon Neutrality Drive

Lyft will make all of its rides carbon neutral starting immediately by investing millions of dollars in projects that offset its emissions, the company announced Thursday.

The ridesharing service, which is part of the We Are Still coalition, provides more than 10 million rides worldwide each week. "We feel immense responsibility for the profound impact that Lyft will have on our planet," founders John Zimmer and Logan Green wrote in a Medium post.

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Scroby Sands Wind Farm. Martin Pettitt / Flickr

UK Goes 55 Hours Without Coal Power, Breaking Record

Coal, which was once king in Great Britain, has continued its evident decline.

Absolutely zero coal was used to generate energy in UK power stations between 10:25 p.m. on Monday until 5:10 a.m. on Thursday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That's a history-making run of 55 hours.

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Indonesia Calls in the Army to Fight Plastic Enemy

In March, a diver's video of masses of plastic floating off the Indonesian coast went viral. But that plastic often reaches the ocean through the country's rivers, clogging them to such an extent that Indonesia had to call in the army, the BBC reported Thursday.

The BBC spent time on the ground in Bandung, Indonesia's third largest city, and observed a concentration of bottles, plastic bags and styrofoam packaging so large it looked like an iceberg.

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