Attacks on America’s freight cabotage law – and the hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs that go with it – are nothing new, but neither is solid bipartisan support for the century- strong statute. The latter point again came into focus March 13, in the form of a bipartisan letter sent by members of Congress to President Trump. U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Mississippi) led a group of his House colleagues on the letter expressing strong opposition to temporarily waiving the Jones Act for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
The Jones Act requires ships moving between domestic ports to be American-crewed, American owned, American-built, and American- flagged. The act helps ensure thousands of shipboard and shipbuilding jobs aren’t lost to unfair overseas competition, while protecting U.S. national defense interests. A new study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (released earlier this year) found that the Jones Act supports nearly 650,000 American jobs and contributes $154 billion to the nation’s economy annually.
Palazzo’s office said the letter “follows a short-sighted Congressional proposal to permanently repeal the Jones Act.”
“Protecting our national defense is a sworn responsibility of every member in our legislative body,” the congressman said. “I believe that there are very few industries that are as important to the economic health and security of our nation as those who comprise our maritime industries. Understanding the potential ramifications associated with waiving the Jones Act and allowing foreign imports of any sort could seriously harm our national security. From both an economic perspective and a national security perspective, we cannot sit idly by as uninformed individuals in Congress attempt to erode our American maritime industry.”
The full text of the letter is as follows:
“We are writing in strong support of the Jones Act and to voice our opposition to waiving the Jones Act for Puerto Rico. The Jones Act has been the law of the land for nearly a century supporting our economy and protecting our national security. As Members of Congress that represent the maritime and shipbuilding industry, we are concerned that any consideration by your Administration for a long-term Jones Act waiver to provide liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Puerto Rico could severely damage our domestic maritime industry.
The Jones Act provides that ships moving between American ports are U.S.-crewed, U.S.-owned, U.S.-built, and U.S.- flagged. It sustains thousands of high-paying jobs and ensures the military has access to U.S. flagged ships for the delivery of vital military assets. Waiving the Jones Act would help foreign entities, harm our American maritime base, and risk our military readiness.
A waiver for Puerto Rico is unnecessary and in direct conflict with existing law. For the next four years, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure lacks the capacity to receive large scale LNG deliveries. Instead of a waiver, we should look toward recapitalizing an American-built LNG carrier fleet. This option is consistent with your “Buy American, Hire American” agenda.
Furthermore, the Jones Act may only be waived in the interests of national defense. Puerto Rico has no known national security justification for the waiver. Senior members of the military have consistently expressed the importance of the Jones Act to our national defense and sealift capacity. Vice Chairman of your Joint Chiefs of Staff, General (Paul) Selva has said, “I am an ardent supporter of the Jones Act,” and that it “supports a viable shipbuilding industry.
“Thank you for your consideration of our perspective on the importance of the Jones Act. We look forward to working with you on this issue.” Signing the document were Palazzo and fellow Republicans Don Young (Alaska), Peter King (New York), Garret Graves (Louisiana), Duncan Hunter (California), Ralph Abraham (Louisiana), Clay Higgins (Louisiana), Michael Guest (Mississippi), David McKinley (West Virginia), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania), Brian Babin (Texas), Tom Graves (Georgia), Lee Zeldin (New York), Mike Bost (Illinois) and Bradley Byrne (Alabama). Democrat signees were John Garamendi (California), Joe Courtney (Connecticut), Alan Lowenthal (California) and Donald Norcross (New Jersey).