Democratic Congressman, Conservative Think-Tank President
Cite Numerous Benefits of America’s Freight Cabotage Law
Two recent guest editorials published by The Hill highlighted the importance of the Jones Act – from two different perspectives.
The first, written by U.S. Rep. Garamendi (D-California), began with a historical frame of reference: “In 1791, our nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, founded the Revenue Cutter Service. This entity, which would later become today’s United States Coast Guard, ensured that proper import duties were paid on goods arriving to the United States by sea – a key source of financial support for our fledgling nation. But Hamilton wasn’t just concerned with international trade; he also understood the value of American shipbuilding, and he required that the cutters be built from American-made materials. Why? To strengthen America’s shipbuilding and domestic manufacturing sectors, which were crucial to our country’s national security and economic development.”
Garamendi, who serves as the Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, continued, “Two-hundred twenty-seven years later, they still are – and that is why our nation needs the Jones Act now more than ever. The Jones Act is a simple law: It requires that shipping between two U.S. ports occur on ships that are built in the United States, fly the U.S. flag, and are operated by crews consisting of at least 75 percent American citizens. This requirement buttresses a domestic maritime trade that supports nearly half a million jobs and almost $100 billion in annual economic impact.
“If the Jones Act did not exist, this industry would be sharply undercut by foreign shippers with lower labor protections, environmental requirements, and safety standards,” the Congressman wrote. “Not only would we outsource marine transportation along our coasts and inland waterways to the cheapest foreign bidder, we also would hollow out a key component of American industrial might.”
He also noted the importance of America’s freight cabotage law as it pertains to the national defense. The Jones Act “remains essential for our national security and our war fighting capacity,” Garamendi pointed out. “Our military relies on privately owned sealift capacity and highly trained and credentialed merchant mariners to transport and sustain our armed forces when deployed overseas during times of conflict. But the number of ocean-going U.S.-flag vessels has dropped from 249 in the 1980s, to 106 in 2012, to at most 81 today.”
The congressman then offered an example of the dangers of a dwindling U.S.-flag fleet. “The consequences of this steep decline are not just theoretical,” he said. “Our military has had to turn to foreign-flagged vessels for sustainment in times of war, and experience shows that can have dangerous consequences. In the 1991 Gulf War, our armed forces relied on 192 foreign-flagged ships to carry cargo to the war zone. The foreign crews on thirteen vessels mutinied, forcing those ships to abandon their military mission. Would foreign-flag carriers be any more reliable today, especially for a long-term deployment into active war zones?”
The loss of tonnage in the fleet has other, less obvious consequences. He wrote, “The U.S. Transportation Command and Federal Maritime Administration estimate that our country is now at least 1,800 mariners short of the minimum required for adequate military sealift, even with the Jones Act firmly in place. Without the Jones Act, our nation would be wholly unprepared to meet the labor demands of rapid, large-scale force projection for national security.”
The second op-ed was written by George Landrith, president of public policy think tank Frontiers of Freedom. Landrith focused on a recent example of the Jones Act coming under fire by opponents of the law: “Virtually every argument against the Jones Act is falsely premised on the notion that it increases consumer prices and that it impeded emergency supplies from getting to Puerto Rico after last year’s hurricanes. Some have even argued that Puerto Rico’s decade-long recession is the fault of the Jones Act – despite the fact that it was enacted almost 100 years ago. Simply stated, there is no factual evidence to support these claims.”
He continued, “Claims that Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery was impeded by the Jones Act are silly. Within hours after the hurricane and once the port had reopened, Jones Act vessels were unloading vital cargoes – including food, water, medicine, fuel, and other relief cargo. In fact, so much relief was delivered that the port lacked space to store it all. The biggest challenge was distributing the relief goods from the port throughout the island because of damaged roadways, electrical and communication outages, and trucker shortages. But that cannot be blamed on the Jones Act.”
Landrith’s organization studied the impacts of U.S.-flag shipping to Puerto Rico, as he explained: “Frontiers of Freedom conducted its own study on consumer prices. We priced a ‘basket of consumer goods’ (food items, toiletries, cleaning products, etc.) in Miami, Florida, and Houston, Texas and compared them to the prices in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The cost in Puerto Rico was not higher. In fact, some items were cheaper in Puerto Rico despite being shipped from the U.S. Mainland.”
He concluded, “Sadly, we will continue to hear the uninformed and misinformed, as well as those with a political ax to grind, make false arguments maligning the Jones Act. But what you will not hear from them are real facts, real studies, real data or even a serious discussion of the numerous benefits of the Jones Act…. The Jones Act works for America. It keeps the homeland safe, ensures that we have a shipbuilding industry to support our military, and supports good-paying jobs for Americans.”