US Senator John McCain has introduced a bill to make permanent Puerto Rico’s temporary exemption from the Jones Act, which was instituted on Thursday, according to Reuters.
The veteran Republican from Arizona made his move soon after the administration of President Donald Trump allowed a temporary 10-day waiver of Jones Act rules to help the Caribbean island, which is in dire straits after Hurricane Maria.
Jones Act regulations require items moved between US seaports – and Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory – to be carried on ships that are US-made, US-owned, US-flagged and US-crewed.
Critics such as McCain have long maintained that the Act adds unnecessarily to the cost of living, especially in far-flung places such as Puerto Rico and Hawaii.
McCain’s co-sponsor of the bill is Mike Lee, US Senator for Utah and also a Republican.
The US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands – all US territories or commonwealths – have been exempt from the Act for decades.
As recently as July, Senator McCain introduced a bill to repeal the Jones Act entirely. He had introduced similar bills to no avail in 2010 and 2015.
On the other side of the debate, the US maritime industry – including shipbuilders and shipping companies – says that not only is McCain’s new bill unnecessary but that even the 10-day waiver is pointless.
The American Maritime Partnership says that there are more than enough US-flagged vessels to deliver the needed supplies to Puerto Rico, meaning that non-Jones Act-compliant vessels are superfluous.
It also reiterated that the problem of slow delivery of supplies to the island’s population is because of delays on land.
The ports already have stockpiles of full containers and cargo awaiting transportation inland.
But roads and vehicles are damaged and communications systems have been down so that coordinating with truck companies and drivers has been hampered.
Some industry critics have accused those pressing for Jones Act waivers and repeal of capitalizing on the disaster.