SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Federal lawmakers demand Wednesday that Puerto Rico quickly privatize its bankrupt power company in a bid to end its turmoil and allow others to provide stable electricity in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Frustration grew as consultants and local and federal officials testified during a hearing on the management crisis at Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority held by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources in Washington.
Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska urged the Department of Energy to set a timeline on how long it would take to privatize the U.S. territory's power company, saying that five or 10 years is "too damn long."
"We are going to privatize this unit," he said. "It has been a failure. Puerto Ricans deserve better."
A few hundred Puerto Ricans remain without power more than 10 months after the hurricane destroyed up to 75 percent of transmission lines. Crews are still trying to repair and rebuild the grid in the middle of this year's hurricane season as the company struggles with a high turnover, naming its fifth director since Maria.
Before testimony began, Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who is chairman of the committee, said the objective of the hearing was the health and safety of Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens.
"We're not talking about federalizing anything ... or selling assets to the highest bidder," he said.
The statement appeared to be a response to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who declined to attend the hearing. He sent a letter to Bishop saying his administration has worked hard to overhaul the company, known as PREPA, and upgrade the still fragile grid.
"The transformation is a complex process, and it would be unnecessary and inappropriate for Congress to give the Department of Energy control of PREPA, effectively robbing the island of a critical resource at a perilous time for Puerto Rico," Rossello wrote.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has so far allocated $6 billion for Puerto Rico's electrical grid, although not all of it has been spent, officials said.