Opposition voiced by lawmakers and U.S.-flag vessel and shipyard interests to Puerto Rico’s proposed 10-year Jones Act waiver.
A Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday led by Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., presented a united front to oppose any degradation to the nation’s maritime cabotage law.
The 1920 Merchant Marine Act, better known as the Jones Act, which preserves coastal and inland marine transportation for American-owned, -flagged and -crewed vessels, has been subject to routine calls for repeal by various trade associations and state organizations in recent years.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in early February requested a 10-year Jones Act waiver from the Trump administration, stating its necessity to develop a liquefied natural gas delivery system to the island. The White House has yet to decide on the request.
A bipartisan group of senators and congressmen recently sent a letter to President Trump advising him not to erode the Jones Act. “This is a fight that the administration doesn’t need to have with folks that create American jobs,” Wicker said at the close of the Senate Commerce Committee’s “State of the American Maritime Industry” hearing.
Thomas Allegretti, president and CEO of the American Waterways Operators, told the committee in his testimony that the Jones Act is “foundational” to the U.S. tugboat, towboat and barge industry.
Allegretti noted as the Jones Act reaches its 100th anniversary next year, that anti-Jones Act proponents have stated the law “must be a relic. I would say it’s more important today,” he said.
He added that the Jones Act provides a system in which “allegiances [to U.S. national security] are clear” and “transferring that to foreign assets and crews with no allegiances is absolutely absurd to me.”
Matt Woodruff, vice president of public and government affairs for Kirby Corp., and president of the American Maritime Partnership, warned that “open American waters equals open American borders.”
“Nothing is more essential to the long-term investments that are necessary for success in our capital-intensive industry than a reliable, predictable and consistent legal framework,” Woodruff said in his written testimony to the committee. “Every time we have a discussion of waivers or repeal of the Jones Act, it has a chilling effect across our industry. It makes vessel owners less willing to invest in vessels and bankers less willing to lend money for them. It makes young people think again before choosing the maritime industry for their career.”
Matthew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America, said the nation’s shipyard industry relies of the Jones Act and its 40,000-vessel fleet for “certainty and stability,” as well as preserving the workforce and supplier base to construct the Navy’s future warships.