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Life Under Zinke

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Of all the Trump appointees, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has proven to be the most underrated evil. This guy, who got the job over Cathy McMorris Rodgers because he shared good hunting stories with Uday and Qusay Trump, has gone all the way in supporting his master and his master’s obsequiousness to corporations. This blew up big time with the awarding of that huge contract to rebuild Puerto Rico to a tiny firm run by Zinke’s friends in Whitefish, Montana. I don’t want to shock you, but not only was that firm completely unprepared for the job, but it is also utterly corrupt.

The small energy outfit from Montana that won a $300 million contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s tattered power grid had few employees of its own, so it did what the Puerto Rican authorities could have done: It turned to Florida for workers.

For their trouble, the six electrical workers from Kissimmee are earning $42 an hour, plus overtime. The senior power linemen from Lakeland are earning $63 an hour working in Puerto Rico, the Florida utility said. Their 40 co-workers from Jacksonville, also linemen, are making up to $100 earning double time, public records show.

But the Montana company that hired the workers, Whitefish Energy Holdings, had a contract that allowed it to bill the Puerto Rican public power company, known as Prepa, $319 an hour for linemen, a rate that industry experts said was far above the norm even for emergency work — and almost 17 times the average salary of their counterparts in Puerto Rico.

Two weeks after Prepa abruptly withdrew the contract from Whitefish following strong criticism by federal and congressional officials of the company’s expected ability to perform the work needed, more questions are being raised about the deal, including how much it will actually cost. Whitefish will keep repairing power lines until Nov. 30.

As the Trump administration prepares to spend billions of dollars on rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, the Whitefish deal — hatched in a dim, powerless room six days after a storm packing winds of nearly 150 miles an hour knocked down thousands of power poles and lines — has served as a cautionary note about the potential for soaring costs that are common after disasters.

Questions are already being raised about a second contract that Prepa signed, this one with an Oklahoma company, Cobra, which was the highest bidder, required a $15 million down payment and — like the doomed Whitefish agreement — included a clause that said the deal could not be audited.

“They are paying $3 million for hotels and $80 a day each for food,” said Johnny Rodríguez Ortiz, president of the organization of retired electrical workers in Puerto Rico. “I just had lunch with my wife, and it cost me $14.”

Prepa agreed to pay Whitefish three times the going rate for aviation fuel, and about double what a helicopter specially equipped for transmission line construction should cost, according to industry insiders and people with knowledge of the Whitefish contract. The company is also billing about $4,000 an hour to rent a helicopter; companies that specialize in transmission line construction said that price is more than double what they charge.

Why even bother to hide the graft?

Meanwhile, Zinke, who has engaged in attacks on our national monuments that is both evil and completely Mickey Mouse at the same time, is whining that Democratic senators have put his underlings’ confirmation hearings on hold. Given Zinke’s noted and loud defense of the need to hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, I really sympathize with the poor guy.

In the end, Zinke matters a lot because he sees this job as a stepping stone into big time national politics. This is a man with legitimate presidential ambitions. He is an evil, corrupt operator who combines Trump-style politics with western trappings. Outside of Sessions, when we combine power over the agency (which someone like Devos doesn’t really have because the Secretary of Education is actually a relatively weak position, which is why she is considering resigning) with penchant for harm, Zinke is probably the worst Trump Cabinet official.

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