The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 was introduced by Sen. Wesley Jones, R-Washington, and later became known simply as the Jones Act.
“The 1920 Jones Act, regarded as one of the cornerstones of U.S. maritime policy, requires that goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by vessels built in the U.S., majority-owned by American firms and crewed by U.S. citizens,” reported The Wall Steet Journal’s Natalie Andrews and Paul Page on Wednesday. “The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t waived the act for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last week.”
It was, however, suspended by President George W. Bush in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. It was suspended again in 2012 by President Barack Obama after Superstorm Sandy. President Donald Trump even did the same for Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and for Florida after Hurricane Irma. Yet, Trump has refused to do the same for Puerto Rico.
“DHS has been given the ability to waive the Jones Act to accommodate national security concerns, and has done so twice in the last month,” wrote longtime Jones Act critic Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in a letter Tuesday to DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke. “These emergency waivers have been valuable to speed up recovery efforts in the impacted regions. However, 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. 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. Now, more than ever, it is time to realize the devastating effect of this policy and implement a full repeal of this archaic and burdensome Act.”
And what reasoning did Trump give Wednesday?
“A lot of people that work in the shipping industry... don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” he told reporters. “We have a lot of ships out there right now.”
McCain is right. This is simply unacceptable. Puerto Ricans — American citizens — are facing a desperate situation that has already spiraled into a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Arcane protectionist maritime laws are keeping valuable resources from reaching the people who desperately need it. We must act as decisively as we have done during previous emergencies. Time is of the essence.