The International Propeller Club of the United States, in an October 11th email, urged its members to support the Navy League of the United States’ grass roots campaign asking Congress to support the Jones Act and opposing new proposals to undermine the Act:
“For nearly 100 years, the Jones Act has been the foundation of American Maritime policy, and for the 90 years since our founding, the Propeller Club has been an advocate for the Jones Act and the U.S.-flag maritime community. Hurricane Maria, and its impacts on Puerto Rico, have put the Jones Act into the spotlight again and legislative proposals to weaken its provisions may be considered as early as this week in Congress.
In light of this, the Navy League of the United States is coordinating a national grassroots letter supporting the Jones Act, reminding lawmakers that the U.S. military relies on a strong American commercial maritime industry for military sealift, and that the Jones Act is crucial to keeping our maritime industry afloat.”
Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, the Trump Administration temporarily waived Jones Act provisions for ships transporting goods to the island.
The Merchant Marine Act, 1920, commonly known as the Jones Act, requires that cargoes transported between two U.S. ports must be carried by vessels built in the United States, manned by U.S. citizens and owned by U.S. citizens. This supports mariner jobs on ships sailing to Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico as well as tug/barge crews sailing along U.S. inland waterways such as the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. The Jones Act also supports jobs for U.S. workers building ocean-going ships, tugboats, barges, ferries, and off-shore supply vessels that support the oil and gas industries. This shipbuilding, in turn, supports military sealift ships and military support vessels.
The Trump Administration argued that the temporary waiver was necessary to allow foreign flag carriers to provide supplies to Puerto Rico, because U.S. carriers such as Crowley Maritime and TOTE Maritime could not handle the emergency without foreign flag assistance.
Bi-Partisan Support for the Jones Act
In a demonstration of bi-partisan support for the Jones Act, the Trump administration’s waiver of the Jones Act was criticized by the top Republicans and Democrats on the U.S. House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
“The concerns about the situation in Puerto Rico are real. But we must focus our attention on the actions that can deliver real results on the island,” Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and Democratic Congressman John Garamendi wrote in a letter to House colleagues.
“Waiving the Jones Act will not help and, in fact, could hinder the response” adding that there is “more than adequate supply of U.S.-flag vessels to cost-effectively and efficiently deliver the goods from U.S. ports to Puerto Rico.”
Thomas Allegretti, Chairman of the American Maritime Partnership noted that thousands of shipping containers loaded with vital supplies had been stacking up in Puerto Rico: “So the problem at the port is a lack of trucks and delivery routes, not a lack of vessels.”
Air Quality Regulations & Highway Congestion May Spur New Jones Act Shipping
U.S. shipyards at NASCO in San Diego and the Philly Shipyard in Philadelphia are building new ships powered by low emission LNG for Jones Act shipowners instead of more polluting diesel-powered ships. This raises the possibility that low emission Jones Act ships can carry thousands of containers and provide an alternative to long-haul truck congestion on the Pacific coast’s I-5 corridor and the Atlantic coast’s I-95 corridor. This is the Marine Highway service promoted by the U.S. Maritime Administration.
California air quality regulators are looking at ways to reduce truck emissions near warehouses and distribution centers. At a South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing on February 3rd, the Sierra Club joined hundreds of people demanding tougher air quality regulations so as to reduce respiratory problems for people living near Southern California warehouses and harbor trucking corridors. Regulators are considering a proposal to restrict port truck traffic going to and from warehouses. One small container ship requires about 10% of the horsepower that 360 trucks require to haul the same load.
A 2017 University of California study, supported by the Southern California Association of Governments, found that nearly 5% of imports passing through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are being trucked nearly four hundred miles to Northern California. The study says import containers are unloaded at the two Southern California ports, trucked to Southern California warehouses where they are unloaded and then reloaded on to 53-foot trailers and trucked north. This process can take up to 8 days, shippers say.
New Jones Act ships sailing at 16 knots can deliver containers to Northern California ports within 3-4 days and for less money than by truck.
This California trade would require the construction of new ships that meet California’s tough air quality standards. Even more new ships would need to be built to transport truckloads along on the Atlantic’s I-95 corridor.
Support by U.S. Ports is Critical
Keeping Jones Act shipping safe from future attacks, requires a new market, such as the Marine Highway, to generate new U.S. ships and new U.S. shipbuilding. U.S. ports can command funding and market support for both. California’s air quality rules are already driving demand for low emission freight transportation and U.S. shipyards are constructing vessels powered by LNG. The ports can insist that state and federal transportation funding treat Marine Highway shipping as infrastructure investments. This is similar to the ports seeking funding of new highway ramps and bridges for trucks. U.S. ports facing truck congestion and emissions challenges can improve productivity by shifting long-haul trucking onto ships. In turn, new commercial ships can provide new U.S. built and U.S. manned military sealift ships in time of a national emergency as advocated by the Navy League and the Propeller Club.