Congressional Leaders Defend the Jones Act During Hearing on Hurricane Relief and Recovery Efforts

crowley flat-deck barge
A Crowley Maritime Corp. barge Photo: Crowley Maritime

Congressional leaders from both sides of the isle defended the Jones Act’s impact on hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico during a hearing this week exploring initial lessons learned from the 2017 hurricanes and key challenges and obstacles that may remain in the way of recovery.

The House Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing Wednesday on “Emergency Response and Recovery: Central Takeaways from the Unprecedented 2017 Hurricane Season” during which Congressman John Rutherford (R-FL) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) highlighted the importance of the American maritime industry for Puerto Rico recovery and the capacity and capability of Jones Act vessels to meet Puerto Rico’s present and future needs.

In his testimony, Congressman Rutherford recognized the critical role of American maritime first responders in the wake of Hurricane Maria and highlighted the significance of American maritime in supporting the long-term restoration of the island’s economy.

“The Jones Act has not added difficulties to the recovery in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The goods getting to the port were not the problem. It was the distribution from the port into the country where the need was at that was the difficulty,” said Congressman Rutherford. “The U.S. maritime industry are first responders in times of emergency like Hurricane Irma and Maria and Jacksonville is ground zero for getting shipments of goods to Puerto Rico quickly reliably and economically…Jones Act carriers to date have delivered tens of thousands of containers to the island via the Port of San Juan. They have worked closely with federal emergency responders, customers, and nonprofit organizations to meet the ever changing and increasing needs of the island. They have proven themselves committed to meeting Puerto Rico’s immediate needs while also supporting the long term restoration of the island’s economy.”

Congressman Rutherford further added:

“Part of the rebuilding effort is also making sure that the hundreds of maritime employees in San Juan and in Jacksonville are able to keep their jobs. The Jones Act provides stability to these American workers and certainty to industry, which in turn has reinvested more than a billion dollars into vessels and infrastructure in the shipping corridor between Jacksonville and San Juan…Consistent application of the Jones Act enables [a domestic maritime company] to make these 35 year investments that ensure consistent on time deliveries to the people of Puerto Rico and that ensure cargo shipments back to the mainland to support the island’s manufacturing sector, and it’s this continuity and certainty that position the U.S. maritime industry in Jacksonville to be so capable to respond to the needs of Puerto Rico as the Coast Guard reopened the port after Maria.”

Echoing Congressman Rutherford’s remarks, Ranking Member DeFazio also stressed the importance of the Jones Act for ensuring reliable delivery to the island and the challenge of moving relief containers out of the port due to infrastructure problems.

“Finally, I hope once and for all to put the idea to rest the idea that somehow the Jones Act is inhibiting the recovery of Puerto Rico. We’ve had more than 20,000 containers delivered,” said Ranking Member DeFazio. “The problem has been the logistics of getting those out of the port. The remote parts of the island want to hear more about the infrastructure problems that are inhibiting the distribution and what we can do about that in the short and the long term.”

These comments come after a prior hearing of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation on October 3, 2017 in which congressional members and leaders from the U.S. Coast Guard also discussed the importance of the law to Puerto Rico’s recovery.

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