Two of the year’s first congressional hearings on the maritime industry reflected strong bipartisan support for the U.S. Merchant Marine as a whole and for the Jones Act in particular.
SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez (pictured above) testified on behalf of maritime labor during a March 6 hearing conducted by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. The hearing’s title was “U.S. Maritime and Shipbuilding Industries: Strategies to Improve Regulation, Economic Opportunities, and Competitiveness.” Tellez was on a panel that also included Rear Adm. Michal Alfultis, Ph.D, president, State University of New York Maritime College; Jennifer Carpenter, executive vice president and COO, American Waterways Operators; John Crowley, president, National Association of Waterfront Employers; and Michael Roberts, senior vice president and general counsel, Crowley Maritime, on behalf of the American Maritime Partnership. An earlier panel included Rear Adm. John Nadeau, assistant commandant for prevention policy, United States Coast Guard; and Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, (USN Ret.), administrator, Maritime Administration.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation simultaneously conducted a hearing titled “The State of the American Maritime Industry.”
Like others, Tellez addressed the manpower crisis facing the industry. He said that while the U.S. Merchant Marine always answers the call during crises, “we have to make sure that there is an industry in which to employ them” at all times.
“We are at a critical time,” Tellez told the subcommittee. “To reverse that critical situation, I think it’s time for some bold moves – boldness in the sense that it will create untold opportunities for American seafarers.”
He called for strengthening cargo preference laws, including a boost to 100 percent of government-impelled, non-military cargoes. “Let every federal agency buy, build and ship American,” he declared.
Tellez also urged extension and expansion of the Maritime Security Program, along with passage of an LNG-related bill introduced last year by U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-California) that would “create thousands of jobs on land in the shipyards, at sea, create a true trade for American companies to be involved in, and silence those Jones Act waiver demands for the transportation of energy.”
He also described ways to be “creative in recapitalization and the utilization of our Ready Reserve Force.”
He concluded, “The time is now to make these bold moves. We cannot wait.”
Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) opened the hearing by addressing the recent executive order signed by President Trump that facilitates military veterans’ entry into the industry. “I applaud the President for signing an executive order on Monday to support the transition of active duty service members and military veterans to careers in the U.S. Merchant Marine,” he said. “It would be a cruel irony, however, if the next action taken by this administration were to waive the Jones Act and simultaneously eliminate future job opportunities for those very same veterans and separating active duty service members. I feel very strongly about the Jones Act.”
Subcommittee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York) recognized the importance of the Jones Act, stating, “We cannot become complacent in our defense of the Jones Act, which remains a critical component of U.S. maritime strategy.” He also highlighted the importance of the Jones Act for providing the vessels and manpower in times of need: “The U.S. Merchant Marine acts as a naval auxiliary to deliver troops and war material to military operations abroad. Throughout our history, the Army has relied on U.S.-flagged commercial vessels to carry weapons and supplies and ferry troops to the battlefield. During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, U.S.-flagged commercial vessels transported 90 percent of sustainment cargoes moved to Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Also expressing support for the Jones Act was Rep. Chris Pappas (DNew Hampshire), who asked, “What would the maritime industry look like without the Jones Act?”
Buzby responded, “We would not have a maritime industry without the Jones Act. Quite plain and simple.”
Pappas concluded, “The Jones Act seems to be working. I’m a big supporter.” During the Senate hearing, Chairman Roger F. Wicker (R-Mississippi) noted there are 41,000 Jones Act-qualified vessels operating in the domestic trades, adding that “properly enforcing the Jones Act is important for economic and national security.”
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) addressed the importance of a strong American domestic fleet to maintain a robust shipbuilding industry and industrial base, and urged the committee that “in addition to the strong support of the Jones Act, this committee should consider supporting investments in vessel recapitalization programs.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) highlighted the national security aspect of the Jones Act, noting the importance of “having the merchant mariners ready in case they are in need.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska) likewise acknowledged the significance of the Jones Act for military readiness, adding that the law is “vital to the security and safety of the United States.” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) emphasized that the American maritime industry represents “a critical national security asset for the United States.” Baldwin went on to discuss a bill she introduced, the Made in America Shipbuilding Act, and revealed she plans on reintroducing it “very soon.”
Reminding witnesses that a number of committee members sent a letter to the White House emphasizing the importance of the Jones Act, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) highlighted the role of the Jones Act in national security and noted that Korea, China, and Japan all have laws that are like the “Jones Act on steroids” which are in place to protect domestic economies, jobs, and national security.