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Cassidy: Trump to oppose Jones Act changes, waivers

President Trump was reportedly considering granting Puerto Rico a waiver in the requirement that U.S.-flag vessels be used to transport LNG from the mainland to the island.

   President Donald Trump will not waive Jones Acts rules that require only U.S.-flag vessels transport liquified natural gas from U.S. ports to Puerto Rico, said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Wednesday following a meeting with the president that included a group of lawmakers. 
   Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosselló requested a 10-year waiver of the cabotage laws to allow the movement of U.S.-origin LNG to the territory on foreign-flag tankers. The cabotage laws operate under the auspices of the Jones Act, which requires vessels moving cargo between points in the U.S., including the mainland and Puerto Rico, be done with ships that are U.S. flagged, owned, built and crewed.
   News reports from last week indicated President Trump was considering granting a waiver, but Cassidy said the president told the lawmakers Wednesday “he was going to oppose any changes to the Jones Act and any waivers,” according to Reuters.
   “We cannot let the United States become dependent on foreign countries to transport energy and critical products within the United States,” Cassidy said in a statement. “The Jones Act is essential to preserve our domestic shipping industry and protect our national and economic security. I thank President Trump for meeting and his support for Louisiana shipbuilders and maritime workers.”
      Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., was also at Wednesday’s White House meeting and said in a statement the Jones Act supports 71,000 jobs in Louisiana.
   “After talking to President Trump, I am confident that he realizes how important the Jones Act is to Louisiana’s maritime industry and that no changes will be made,” Kennedy said in the statement. “Louisiana is the greatest beneficiary of the Jones Act, with thousands of jobs that depend on it. Our maritime industry is part of the lifeblood of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast economy. It would be foolish to push aside those jobs in favor of foreign-made and foreign-crewed ships.” 
   U.S. maritime industry interests expressed concerns over last week’s reports, and some asked him to reject Puerto Rico’s waiver request.
   The Department of Homeland Security waived the requirement for one week in 2017 to help ensure fuel reached first responders during Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery efforts.
   Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in February wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security opposing Rosselló’s 10-year waiver request.
   “We can do many things to foster and support the recovery of Puerto Rico and its citizens from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, and our committee has done so,” the letter reads. “However, we believe there is no justification for waiving the Jones Act in this context. … Again, we urge you to deny this request.”
   Others, however, supported waiving the requirement. Administration officials were divided on the issue during Wednesday’s meeting, according to Reuters.
   Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced a bill in March that would allow qualified, non-U.S.-flag ships to operate between U.S. ports in domestic trade.
   “It is long past time to repeal the Jones Act entirely so that Alaskans, Hawaiians and Puerto Ricans aren’t forced to pay higher prices for imported goods — and so they rapidly receive the help they need in the wake of natural disasters,” he said in a statement at the time.