The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Thursday that it will not extend a 10-day Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico, heeding calls from the American maritime industry to allow the emergency exemption to expire. Without further action by DHS, the waiver will run out on Sunday.
“We believe that extending the waiver is unnecessary to support the humanitarian relief efforts on the island. There is an ample supply of Jones Act-qualified vessels to ensure that cargo is able to reach Puerto Rico,” said DHS press secretary David Lapan. Lapan added that the Department of Defense has not asked for an extension – the formal mechanism required for a temporary waiver in the interest of national defense – and noted that no vessels have taken advantage of the waiver to date.
Opponents of the Jones Act – notably Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who has called for a full repeal of the law for decades – had called for a permanent exemption for Puerto Rico, or at least a long-term waiver. Waiver advocates assert that the Act impedes the flow of aid to the storm-damaged island, and that it damages its economy by imposing artificially high freight rates on goods transported from the mainland. McCain and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) recently introduced legislation for a permanent Jones Act exemption for Puerto Rico, as a preliminary step towards a full repeal.
Jones Act proponents say that there is already enough qualified American tonnage to serve the mainland-to-Puerto Rico routes, and that U.S. shipping companies are investing $1 billion in continued, stable service to and from the island.
"The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico is being used by long-time opponents of the Jones Act to attack a law that promotes U.S. jobs and is critical to our national security. Damaging misinformation is being peddled about the Jones Act in an effort to weaken the law and advance the financial interests of foreign shipping companies," said Larry I. Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. "The claim that the Jones Act is hindering relief efforts in Puerto Rico is simply false. Already, U.S.-flag and other vessels have delivered thousands of containers full of relief supplies to the territory." Willis noted that AFL-CIO would not oppose a waiver if it were genuinely needed in the event of an emergency.