US Senator John McCain on Tuesday called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to waive the Jones Act in relation to Puerto Rico to help the island as it struggles with the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
Puerto Rico’s population of 3.4 million is almost entirely without electricity, while drinking water and food are scarce after Maria’s Category 4 winds and attendant flooding wrought havoc there. Full power may not be restored for six months some experts say. Medical assistance and supplies are also threatened.
The Jones Act is a 1920 law that mandates all goods transported between US seaports must be carried on vessels that are US-made, US-flagged, US-owned and US crewed.
Senator McCain, the Republican Senior Senator from Arizona, is a long-term opponent of the Act and as recently as July he introduced a new bill to repeal it.
He threw his voice behind calls for a waiving of the Act on Tuesday after the administration of President Donald Trump said it would not be lifting the Act in this instance.
Earlier this month the Act was temporarily waived for two weeks to help the recovery process in areas of Texas and Florida that were hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But when that waiver expired last Friday (September 22) the DHS said it would not be renewed.
In this case, the US authorities said that lifting the Jones Act regulations would not help because the destruction caused by Maria meant that Puerto Rico’s ports were not equipped to handle the volume of supplies.
Opponents of the Act in Puerto Rico – an unincorporated territory of the US – have long maintained that it adds unnecessarily to the cost of living there because the island is so dependent on imported goods.
Supporters of the Act cite its security benefits, especially in this age of global terror threats. They also claim it protects American jobs.