Faced with providing hurricane battered Florida and Puerto Rico with extra fuel, the Trump Administration made a move that Heritage has advocated by temporarily suspending the Jones Act.
The Jones Act, passed in the 1920’s, is a regulation which prevented vessels from shipping between American ports unless they were using American made ships crewed by Americans.
Prior to the suspension, Salim Furth, a research fellow in Heritage’s Center for Data Analysis, wrote in The Daily Signal that “Acting immediately to waive the Jones Act will allow fuel, food, water, medicine, and rebuilding supplies to reach Puerto Rico with maximum speed and at the lowest cost.” Furth noted that not only did the Jones Act impede normal business dealings, but that it was detrimental during national disasters.
At a White House press briefing, homeland security advisor Tom Bossart admitted the concern for extra fuel was the motivation behind suspending the Jones Act saying.
"We are worried about the fuel shortages,” said Bossart. "We are bringing in as much supply of refined fuel as possible, and we've waived a particular statute that allows for foreign-flagged vessels to help in that effort.”
“It is encouraging to see Heritage research implemented by the Trump Administration, that will have a positive impact for those struggling in Florida and Puerto Rico,” said Jack Spencer, Vice President for Heritage’s Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity.
At the end of the Trump administrations one-week waiver Furth wrote again in The Daily Signal that Puerto Rico needs a much more extensive waiver to rebuild from Hurricane Maria’s direct hit.
“Given the scale of the damage to Puerto Rico and the multiyear rebuilding effort to come, Trump should issue a blanket waiver from the Jones Act for Puerto Rico for as long as the territory continues to use federal aid dollars in its rebuilding,” said Furth.
On September 28 the Department of Homeland Security issued another temporary waiver.
“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,” said Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke.
Furth says this is great news but that Puerto Rico isn’t going to get back to normal in 10 days.
“President Trump should instruct the Department of Homeland Security to waive the Jones Act for as long as Puerto Rico is spending federal emergency funds. It does not make sense to give Puerto Rico aid money and then prevent them from effectively spending that money buying materials from mainland American businesses."
Read more about why in natural disasters, the Jones Act is especially onerous and why Congress should grant a permanent exemption from the Jones Act for all fuel tankers.
*This article has was edited on September 28 to reflect the new temporary waiver and additional impact .