Briefly

Stuff that matters


deja vu

Nearly all of Puerto Rico is without power AGAIN after a line repaired by Whitefish fails.

Electricity that had already been restored to hundreds of thousands of people cut out on Thursday, 50 days after Hurricane Maria. The island’s power generation plummeted from 43 percent capacity to just 18 percent thanks to a disruption that caused a crucial transmission line to fail.

Whitefish Energy, a small Montana company formerly tasked with rebuilding Puerto Rico’s grid, had fixed the power line as it began winding down its work on the island. Puerto Rico had canceled its controversial $300 million contract with Whitefish after the FBI began investigating it at the end of October. The deal was scrutinized for its anti-auditing measure and high fees. Whitefish’s limited track record and ties to Trump officials didn’t help its case.

The cause of the recent outage is TBD, but a Whitefish Energy spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the company had nothing to do with it.

So the saga continues. Meanwhile, millions of Puerto Ricans are forced to live without electricity — a necessity for treating water so it’s safe to drink and getting people adequate medical care. Following Thursday’s failure, Puerto Rico’s power authority has prioritized restoring electricity to hospitals, airports, and water pump stations.

Update: Ricardo Ramos, the director of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, expects those who lost electricity on Thursday to regain it on Friday.


you get what you pay for

Whitefish Energy won’t finish its work in Puerto Rico until it’s paid $83 million.

After Puerto Rico canceled its controversial contract with the small Montana company last month, Whitefish had agreed to continue repairs on the island’s devastated grid until Nov. 30. But on Monday, the company paused work 10 days early. According to Whitefish, PREPA, Puerto Rico’s government-owned utility, owed it $83 million.

“It may have not been the best business decision coming to work for a bankrupt island,” Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski told CNN. PREPA was $9 billion in debt before Hurricane Maria.

Whitefish claims that some of its contractors and subcontractors are going unpaid due to PREPA’s delayed payments. Meanwhile, PREPA says it paused payment to Whitefish on Nov. 16 at the request of a subcontractor claiming Whitefish owed it money. Sounds like a chicken-and-egg situation?

Congress and the FBI are currently investigating the $300 million Whitefish contract, which drew scrutiny for its anti-auditing measure and unusually high fees, among other things. A congressional hearing last week found that PREPA ignored lawyers’ advice in signing the deal in the first place. Soon after the hearing, PREPA’s CEO resigned.

Puerto Rico could use an end to the Whitefish drama — and the power outages. Two months after Hurricane Maria, less than half of the power has been restored and entire communities are still living without electricity.


on thin ice

Read the Antarctica blockbuster that’s freaking everyone out.

The more climate scientists learn about Antarctica, the more scary the place seems. A new Grist feature by Eric Holthaus dives into one corner of the frozen continent, Pine Island Bay. Scientists say skyscraper-sized shards of ice could rapidly break off Pine Island Bay glaciers and crumble into the sea.

The result? “A global catastrophe the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

Such a rapid collapse of Antarctica’s glaciers could raise sea levels much more quickly than we thought, flooding the world’s coastlines and imperiling cities around the world.

The story has generated a lot of discussion on social media. Some highlights:

Read the full story here.


Turkey Attack

How to survive Thanksgiving in one piece.

While Thanksgiving can be delightful and delicious, it can also be stressful and overwhelming. Never fear! We’ve got you covered with some sage holiday tips from Grist advice columnist (and Thanksgiving expert) Umbra Fisk.

  • Celebrate Buy Nothing Daythe alternative to Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving is the second most shopping-intensive day of the year. You’ll save money and time if you spend Nov. 24 with your loved ones instead.
  • Cook your turkey worry-free. We’ve got some good news for you: Plastic oven roasting bags for turkeys are generally BPA-free, phthalate-free, and approved by the FDA. Roast away, good sirs and madams!
  • Defuse family tensions with fun facts! Thanksgiving can dredge up some ill feelings, particularly betwixt family members who disagree. If you know engaging in political discussion at the dinner table will result in chaos, offer this factoid instead: In 2013, the Daily Mail advised its readers to cook their turkeys in the dishwasher.

That concludes our tips for surviving Thanksgiving. (Unless you’re a turkey, in which case your odds of making it through the day are pretty low.) Bon appetit!


two months later

Lin-Manuel Miranda and thousands more marched on Washington to call attention to Puerto Rico.

Organizers of Sunday’s rally outlined three calls to action for legislators: Eliminate the Jones Act, which slowed shipments of aid to the island by mandating they arrive only on U.S. vessels. Cancel the territory’s $73 billion debt. And rebuild the commonwealth with more sustainable infrastructure.

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda joined the march. “We can keep raising money, but it’s not going to do any good if the government doesn’t help us,” he told the crowd. “All we are asking is the same treatment as the same victims in Florida and the same victims in Texas.”

Two months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, more than 1.5 million people do not have electricity, and many residents still struggle to find clean water, food, and medicine. Officials estimate that hundreds of Puerto Ricans are fleeing daily. More than 140,000 people have left since mid-September.

The wave of migration is already transforming Florida, where new transplants face a shortage of affordable housing and rising hotel rates as the state’s peak tourism season approaches. A migration expert from Florida International University who spoke to the New York Times characterized the influx of Puerto Ricans to the mainland as “a stampede.”


semi-ready

Tesla’s going big — like, 18-wheeler big.

The Tesla Semi, unveiled last week, is a big, shiny sign of a changing industry.

Like the rest of the company’s fleet, it is battery-powered and aggressively designed to maximize cool factor. Space-age updates include a center-mounted driver’s seat and console screens. It will also feature autopilot capabilities like emergency braking and automatic lane keeping, though it won’t get all the way to self-driving status.

But it’s a long road from slick, streamlined prototype to an actual electric truck hauling freight cross-country. The company has been plagued by manufacturing delays on its long-awaited Model 3, making the Semi’s planned production date of 2019 feel tentative. Still, big-box chain Meijer inc has reportedly reserved four semis already, and Walmart put down for a whopping 15.

Some of Tesla’s claims may seem overly optimistic. Experts estimate an electric truck should be able to travel up to 300 miles on one charge, but Elon Musk claims his model will go 500 miles “at maximum weight, at highway speed” and recharge in just 30 minutes.

Then again, if we’ve learned anything about the Tesla founder, it’s that he’s not shy about aiming high:


XL decision

Nebraska gives the green light to Keystone XL — with a twist.

In a long-awaited decision, the Nebraska Public Service Commission announced its vote Monday to approve a tweaked route for the controversial tar sands oil pipeline.

The 3-2 decision is a critical victory for pipeline builder TransCanada after a nearly decade-long fight pitting Nebraska landowners, Native communities, and environmentalists activists against a pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

After years of intense pressure, President Obama deemed the project “not in the national interest” in 2015; President Trump quickly reversed that decision earlier this year. But TransCanada couldn’t go forward without an approved route through Nebraska, which was held up by legal and political proceedings.

In the meantime, it’s become unclear whether TransCanada will even try to complete the $8 billion project. The financial viability of tar sands oil — which is expensive to extract and refine — has shifted in the intervening years, and while KXL languished, Canadian oil companies developed other routes to market.

The commission’s decision also opens the door to new litigation and land negotiations. TransCanada will have to secure land rights along the new route; one dissenting commissioner noted that many landowners might not even know the pipeline would potentially cross their property.

Meanwhile, last Thursday, TransCanada’s original Keystone pipeline, which KXL was meant to supplement, spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. Due to a 2011 Nebraska law, the commissioners were unable to consider pipeline safety or the possibility of spills in their decision.