House Passes Measure on Jones Act Status of Offshore Wind Sector

offshore wind
Installation under way at Block Island Wind, the first commercial-scale U.S. offshore wind farm (file image courtesy Block Island Wind)

Published Sep 25, 2020 1:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act (H.R. 4447), a bill that to support the development of renewable energy and promote green jobs. In addition to its many provisions for shoreside industries, it contains an amendment by longtime Jones Act advocate Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) ensuring the applicability of the Jones Act in the budding U.S. offshore wind sector. 

The amendment clarifies that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (the 1953 law governing offshore oil and gas development) applies to lease sales for non-fossil fuel offshore energy sources - for example, wind power, hydrokinetic or ocean thermal energy conversion. If the Senate passes similar legislation and the amendment is included in a final conference bill - and the conference bill receives the president's approval - it would enforce Jones Act requirements for all offshore renewable energy production.

“Offshore wind development will play a critical role in our nation’s transition to a clean energy economy,” Garamendi said. “Demand for offshore wind development in federal waters is strong, and Congress must act to ensure this burgeoning industry abides by federal laws and regulations including the Jones Act so we have the strongest possible labor and environmental protections. My commonsense amendment simply clarifies that all existing requirements that govern offshore oil and natural gas extraction also apply to renewables. This will enable our domestic maritime industry to support the renewable energy industry and provide a critical economic stimulus for our nation."

The change would be timely, as the U.S. offshore wind sector is preparing to move from the planning and leasing phase into construction and deployment. Its progress is underpinned by state-level power purchase agreements and enthusiastic political support, particularly in New York and New Jersey. It also benefits from significant investment commitments by well-resourced energy players like Equinor, BP and Ørsted. The prospect of large-scale offshore construction and long-term wind farm maintenance work has attracted interest from the U.S. Jones Act sector.

“The Jones Act is the lifeblood for a U.S. maritime trade that supports 650,000 jobs and almost $100 billion in annual economic impact. Ensuring our nation’s offshore renewable energy investments are governed by the strongest labor protections, environmental requirements, and safety standards is commonsense," said Garamendi. "I’m pleased that the House has adopted my amendment to provide critical support for our maritime industry and renewable energy production."

With the profound policy disagreements between the House, Senate and White House, the bill's passage is not assured. This week, the administration released a statement listing its objections to H.R. 4447; with the exception of the Garamendi amendment, the bill is almost exclusively focused on federal policy for shoreside sectors. The administration objected to items like new building efficiency standards, limits on GHG-intensive refrigerants, energy savings targets for federal agencies, green jobs workforce development programs and other measures that "would implement a top-down approach that would undermine the Administration’s deregulatory agenda and empower the government to select favored solutions."

Garamendi's office noted that an OCSLA clarification amendment aimed at offshore renewable energy has moved forward before. In December 2011, the House of Representatives passed a bill containing language nearly identical to the Garamendi amendment.