The chairs and ranking members of two U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittees outlined the reasons the Jones Act must not be altered to fellow House members serving on the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico.
In a letter dated August 15, U.S. Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Transportation; John Garamendi (D-CA), the subcommittee’s ranking member; J. Randy Forbes (R-VA), chair of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces; and Joe Courtney (D-CT), that subcommittee’s ranking member, stated “we do not believe a review of the Jones Act by the Task Force, on which neither of our Committees nor our Subcommittees are represented, is necessary.”
The task force was created within legislation passed earlier this summer dealing with the recent economic crisis involving the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Its membership includes both senators and representatives assigned to seek ways to boost the economic situation on the island. The August 15 letter is addressed to fellow House members serving on the task force: Sean Duffy (R-WI), Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY) and Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR).
During the debate on the economic package, efforts to modify or eliminate the Jones Act from the Puerto Rican trade were rebuffed. The letter seeks to solidify support for the nation’s freight cabotage law before the Task Force makes it an issue, noting it “protects good U.S. jobs, provides jobs and industrial skills needed to support U.S. defense sealift, and provides a network of U.S. mariners who are on the water and provide a knowledgeable first line of defense in our efforts to keep our trade ports and harbors secure.”
The letter pointed out that the U.S. Government Accountability Office already had studied the effect of the Jones Act on the Puerto Rican trade and reported “that the impacts of changes to the Jones Act in Puerto Rico were ‘highly uncertain.’” In addition, the GAO stated “the domestic maritime industry provides ‘reliable, on-time service’ and ‘just in time’ delivery to the island.”
The congressional letter noted the costs of Jones Act shipping between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico “are the lowest in the region.” It refuted allegations that shipping costs between the U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands – a trade where the Jones Act does not apply – are lower than shipping involving the U.S. and Puerto Rico: “In fact, one analysis shows it is 40 percent more expensive to ship goods from the U.S. mainland on foreign vessels to the U.S. Virgin Islands than on Jones Act vessels to Puerto Rico.”
The members of Congress reminded their colleagues via the letter that “the Jones Act creates American jobs,” not just in Puerto Rico but across the United States in such industries as shipbuilding, equipment and infrastructure.
They also outlined the importance of the Jones Act for ensuring the nation’s borders and inland waterways, while providing skilled American mariners to supply U.S. forces positioned around the world.