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The Facts —
- White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced Thursday that President Trump “authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico,” at the request of Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello, effective immediately.
- Rossello responded, tweeting:
— Ricardo Rossello (@ricardorossello) September 28, 2017
- The US Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, regulates maritime commerce. According to the act, any commerce done between US ports must use ships that were made in the US and are owned and crewed by Americans.
- This regulation restricted the availability of resources available for Puerto Rico, an island US territory, in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
- According to Investopedia, this can make shipping between US ports prohibitively expensive as well.
- According to NBC, the Jones Act was originally created to protect US maritime commerce from foreign competition, and supporters in the shipping industry today say it protects American jobs and ensures domestic security.
- The New York Post reported that Trump was initially reluctant to grant a Jones Act waiver because of pressure from the shipping industry.
- Waivers for the Jones Act are granted by the US Department of Homeland Security. They can be permitted “only if it is in the interest of national defense and only if there are enough United States vessels available to meet national defense needs,” according to the New York Times.
- When describing why the government decided to temporarily waive the Jones Act, Elaine Duke, Acting Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security said:
“This waiver will ensure that over the next ten days, all options are available to move and distribute goods to the people of Puerto Rico. It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms.”
- The waiver will last for 10 days, according to the State Department.
The Context —
- Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on 20 September as a Category 4 hurricane. According to the Weather Channel, this is the strongest hurricane landfall that Puerto Rico has experienced since 1928.
- According to CNN, 97% of Puerto Rico was without power a week after the hurricane hit the island, and many Puerto Ricans did not have access to food, water, or gas.
- According to FEMA, thousands of federal employees are involved in relief efforts in Puerto Rico, delivering commodities like water and food and rescuing individuals.
- On 25 September, eight members of Congress sent a letter to Elaine Duke, asking for a one-year Jones Act waiver to help Puerto Rico rebuild by giving them better access to necessary resources, like oil.
Critics of the Jones Act —
- Sen. John McCain (Arizona) and Mike Lee (Utah) introduced legislation on 28 September to make Puerto Rico “permanently exempt” from the Jones Act. In the press release announcing this legislation, McCain said:
“Our legislation would permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act, an antiquated, protectionist law that has driven up costs and crippled Puerto Rico’s economy. For years, I have fought to fully repeal the Jones Act, which has long outlived its purpose to the benefit of special interests. It’s time for Congress to take action, end this injustice, and help our fellow citizens in this time of need.”
- Lee added:
“The Jones Act is just another example of a federal regulation that harms American consumers, gives foreign corporations an edge over American businesses, and makes disaster response harder.”
- Joshua Sharp argued in a 2015 article for The Hill:
“A 95-year old law is driving up transportation costs, increasing the price of energy, and constricting economic growth… Now, almost a century later, this archaic set of regulations is limiting the number of vessels available for shipping, and contributing to the growing cost of maritime transportation for the United States…
Islands such as Hawaii and Puerto Rico import most of their fuel sources. Because the Jones Act forbids foreign producers from delivering products to these islands and then proceeding to the mainland, the cost of these resources is dramatically increased. This increased cost has contributed to Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s debt reaching over $9 billion… Though the intentions were noble, the law has wreaked havoc on American commerce.”
Supporters of the Jones Act —
- Rep. Duncan Hunter (California), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, said in a statement:
“It’s about ensuring that our country maintains a strong manufacturing base with good well-paying jobs. Foreign and corporate interests have long opposed the Jones Act and have spread fake news that the law is a hindrance to Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts. What is clear from our listening session this morning is that Jones Act vessels can provide the needed capacity to bring aid to Puerto Rico, and they stand willing and able to do so. Waiving the Jones Act will do nothing to speed up much needed aid to Puerto Rico’s residents. I hope the Administration will reconsider the facts and rescind its temporary waiver.”
- Rep. John Garamendi (California), Ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, said in a statement:
“Getting relief to the island isn’t the problem. The challenge is in getting relief off the docks. Right now, 6,000 containers full of everything the island needs are languishing on the docks in Puerto Rico because there are no trucks available to distribute them. The entire American maritime industry has done outstanding work to coordinate with local governments to provide relief. The Jones Act is essential to maintain a robust shipbuilding industry and sealift capacity, and waiving it will not help solve Puerto Rico’s problems.”
Elizabeth Rhodes contributed to this report.