Today, the White House waived the Jones Act, an obscure, nearly 100-year-old law, requiring all goods ferried between United States ports be carried on ships built, owned and operated by Americans.
The decision to waive the law is good for Puerto Rico, since it will speed up the shipment of goods and commodities to aid the hurricane-ravaged island. Many Puerto Ricans have been without electricity, cell phone service and water since Hurricane Maria hit the island last week, and 13 people have been confirmed dead.
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On Monday, multiple Congressional officials requested the law be waived. The following day, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, sent a letter to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke also urging the law should be waived regarding Puerto Rico, and ultimately repealed.
“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” McCain wrote. “I am very concerned by the department’s decision not to waive the Jones Act for current relief efforts in Puerto Rico, which is facing a worsening humanitarian crisis following Hurricane Maria.”
According to Duke, the waiver will be in effect for 10 days and will cover all products being shipped to Puerto Rico, according to a release from the department.
“The decision follows yesterday’s request from the governor of Puerto Rico and the Secretary of Defense’s determination that a waiver is in the interest of national defense,” the press release stated. “The waiver will be in effect for 10 days after signature and covers all products being shipped to Puerto Rico.”
The waiver came through following a request from Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who stated on Twitter he petitioned the White House for a waiver on Wednesday night.
Waiving the Jones Act in the face of humanitarian crises is not unprecedented. Earlier this month, the act was waived for petroleum products to be delivered for relief assistance in anticipation of the effects of Hurricane Irma. It was also waived to aid in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
In the cases of Florida and Texas, the act was quickly lifted because the Department of Defense requested a waiver for those states, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
On Wednesday, Trump told reporters the White House was thinking about lifting the law in relation to Puerto Rico, but that “a lot of shippers” did not want it lifted.
“… We have a lot of shippers and … a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” Trump stated at a White House press event. “And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”
Though Trump ultimately changed his tune following criticism, and the Jones Act is currently lifted, it begs the question of whether or not the act should ultimately be repealed – a 10 day waiver is not long enough to assist with long-term relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
The law, which was passed in 1920, requires all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by American-owned and operated ships – while it was initially intended to protect the American shipping industry, in today’s world, it places exorbitant expenses on Puerto Rico’s imports. Since American-owned and operated vessels are more expensive than others in the global marketplace, Puerto Rico pays more for imported goods from the U.S. mainland compared with neighboring islands.
“Trump admin has finally waived #JonesAct for #PuertoRico. Now Congress must repeal this law to aid long-term recovery,” McCain wrote on Twitter.