West Virginia Congressman Promises Fight for Jones Act, Cargo Preference


October 2012


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Click HERE to view photos from the 2012 SIUNA convention.


U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) came to the 2012 SIUNA Convention Sept. 11 vowing to fight against Washington’s recent attacks on the Jones Act, cargo preference laws and the American maritime industry as a whole.


Speaking to the gathering of delegates and officials at the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC), Rahall called the attacks on the maritime industry “perplexing” and “disappointing.”


“This, I believe, is a disservice to the American public,” said Rahall, who serves as the ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “It’s certainly been an impediment to the maritime industry. America, at its core, has been a maritime nation since its founding.”


Specifically, he pointed to recent attacks on the Jones Act and the nation’s cargo preference laws. The maritime industry and many members of Congress were blindsided this summer when a collection of harmful changes to cargo preference laws were quietly attached last-minute to an unrelated transportation bill. The changes, which went initially unnoticed, reduced the mandated U.S.-flag share of federal food aid shipments from 75 percent to 50 percent.


“This devastating provision would, according to the Maritime Administration, eliminate 640 seafarers’ jobs and an additional 2,000 maritime-related jobs and deny to U.S. carriers 500,000 metric tons of valuable cargo,” Rahall said.


Determined to keep that from happening, Rahall said he joined fellow Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rick Larsen (DWash.) and introduced legislation to repeal the cargo preference changes.


“Certainly, you have my pledge to work very hard for this legislation,” Rahall said as applause filled the PHC auditorium. “I appreciate the support of the SIU – it’s going to be crucial as we try to move this bill.”


Rahall also discussed his work to counter recent attacks against the Jones Act. While the Jones Act mandates only American-owned, -built and -crewed vessels can transport cargo among U.S. ports, several waivers were granted by the administration last year when it tapped the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).


The waivers, which allowed foreign vessels to transport oil from the reserve, “drew a strong, bipartisan rebuke from the Congress and generated outrage throughout the U.S. maritime community,” Rahall said, adding the waivers took good jobs away from American mariners.


“I certainly do not believe that spurring growth in our own economy equates to creating jobs for your foreign competitors,” he said. “That’s not an equal equation, in my opinion.”


The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, on which Rahall sits, held a hearing on the matter in June. That hearing, Rahall added, showed the administration that Congress was serious about protecting the Jones Act and would not accept further attacks against it.


“We will continue to monitor this program and try our best to fend off threats to the Jones Act in order to protect the livelihoods of American maritime workers,” Rahall said. “We expect any future release of oil from the SPR to provide economic opportunities and jobs for U.S. mariners and not foreign mariners.”


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