One of the most fervent supports of the U.S. maritime industry recently reintroduced a bill that would benefit American workers.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-California) in mid-October submitted a bill titled “Close Agency Loopholes to the Jones Act,” which would eliminate nearly a half-century of gaps that disadvantage American workers (known as “letter rulings”) by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Specifically, these loopholes allow federal regulators to circumvent the Jones Act – a time-tested federal maritime law that mandates the use of vessels that are crewed, built, flagged and owned American when it comes to transporting cargo from one domestic port to another.
The SIU is one of many maritime labor organizations supporting the bill. Garamendi is the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He served as the top Democrat on the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation from 2013 to 2018.
“The U.S. government should do everything in its power to prevent foreign vessels from paying poverty wages to take jobs from Americans working in our maritime industry,” he said. “Sadly, federal regulators have largely enabled it instead. My Closing Agency Loopholes to the Jones Act would finally enforce the law as Congress intended when it created the Jones Act in 1920. Passing my legislation means maximizing job opportunities for American mariners, U.S.- flagged vessels and domestic shipyard workers.”
He added, “In January 2021, President Biden’s first executive order after assuming office directed federal agencies to maximize the use of American mariners, American-built ships, and U.S.-flagged vessels under the Jones Act. Less than 90 days later, Customs and Border Protection issued a letter ruling contradicting the president’s policy to allow foreign vessels to construct energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. My bill will force federal bureaucrats to implement the president’s policy by fully enforcing the Jones Act.”
According to the congressman, the Close Agency Loopholes to the Jones Act (H.R.5991) would: – Close the “oceanographic research vessel” loophole, thereby preventing commercial vessels engaging in seismic-blasting and similar pre-construction activities for offshore energy development in the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone at sea from skirting the Jones Act.
– Close the “vessel equipment,” “lifting operations,” and “installation vessel” loopholes, thereby preventing vessels with cranes and similar equipment from moving building materials into place to construct offshore energy development in the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone at sea from skirting the Jones Act.
– Close the “paid out, not unladen” loophole, thereby preventing vessels transporting and installing undersea cable between the mainland United States and fixed points like offshore platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf from skirting the Jones Act.
– Close the “decommissioning” loophole, thereby preventing vessels decommissioning offshore platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf from skirting the Jones Act.
– Close the “seabed sample” loophole, thereby preventing commercial vessels taking samples from the seafloor on the Outer Continental Shelf for offshore energy development from skirting the Jones Act.
– Close the “pristine seabed” loophole, thereby preventing commercial vessels that artificially place rocks or other aggregates by vessel – known as “scour protection material” – on the seafloor of the Outer Continental Shelf for offshore energy development from skirting the Jones Act.
– Allow Jones Act operators to appeal letter rulings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that undermine the Jones Act.
– Subject Customs and Border Protection’s enforcement of the Jones Act to the Congressional Review Act, which applies to nearly all other major national policy and regulatory decisions at federal agencies.
– Require foreign-flagged vessels operating on the Outer Continental Shelf purporting to operate under a Jones Act exemption to publicly notify Customs and Border Protection, citing the specific purported exemption and its legal basis.
– Authorize Customs and Border Protection to penalize foreign-flagged vessels operating on the Outer Continental Shelf under a purported Jones Act exemption for failing to notify the federal agency.
– Require that offshore energy developers pay a prevailing wage determined by the U.S. Department of Labor under the Davis-Bacon Act.
– Direct the U.S. Coast Guard to fully implement Garamendi’s 2020 amendment, which reaffirmed that federal laws like the Jones Act that already applied to offshore oil and gas also apply to offshore renewable energy production in the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) at sea.
In addition to the SIU, those supporting the Close Agency Loopholes to the Jones Act legislation include the Offshore Marine Service Association; American Waterways Operators; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; Maritime Trades Department; Metal Trades Department; American Radio Association; Sailors’ Union of the Pacific; American Maritime Officers; International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots; Marine Firemen’s Union; Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association; International Longshore and Warehouse Union; and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers.