House Hearing Underscores Support for the Jones Act

 

April 2015

 

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Lawmakers, the commandant of the Coast Guard, and the head of the Maritime Administration all spoke in support of the Jones Act during a Feb. 25 hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

 

Although the nation’s freight cabotage law wasn’t the hearing’s focal point (the gathering was called to discuss the administration’s budget request for Coast Guard and maritime transportation funding for the next fiscal year), it came up several times.

 

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California) promoted the Jones Act, which requires that ships carrying cargo between domestic ports be built in the United States, crewed by American citizens, American-owned and American-flagged. He talked about the risk of shipments of oil and chemicals being carried by foreign-flag vessels and foreign crews if the Jones Act were curtailed or repealed.

 

Questioned by Hunter, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft told the subcommittee that on any given day his agency is detaining in U.S. ports a dozen foreign-flag vessels that aren’t complying with pollution and safety rules.

 

"Moving highly volatile materials is not a place where we can afford to cut corners,” Zukunft said.

 

Rep. Elijah Cummings, long a maritime stalwart, challenged his fellow subcommittee members to work “to make sure that the (rest of the) Congress understands the significance of the Jones Act, because I think a lot of our colleagues just do not understand how significant it is and how America is falling behind. I used to say slowly but surely; now, it’s fast.”

 

Cummings was referring to the decline in the U.S.-flag fleet.

 

Maritime Administrator Chip Jaenichen told the subcommittee the mere threat of weakening the Jones Act is enough to harm the domestic maritime industry – and, by extension, America’s national security. He pointed out some current new-build programs for Jones Act tonnage and then added, “Even the discussion of potentially changing the build requirement is enough to essentially influence some of the finance folks. And if they get concerned about the ability [of] the folks that are buying these ships to be able to get financing…. What ends up happening is if you bring in tonnage that can be built overseas, at shipyards that are subsidized by foreign governments, you get a situation where you imbalance the economic model [for] these operators currently, who have made the investment in Jones Act tonnage, built it in the U.S. to be able to be in coastwise trade.”

 

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