WASHINGTON ― Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is urging acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke to take an action that could significantly help Puerto Rico amid its unfolding humanitarian crisis: waive the Jones Act.
The law requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by American-owned and operated ships. That means Puerto Rico can’t receive shipments from neighboring islands, and that it pays double the shipping costs for goods from the U.S. mainland. DHS has gotten emergency waivers to the Jones Act twice in the last month for national security reasons, and McCain says Duke should waive the law again to speed up relief efforts on the island decimated last week by Hurricane Maria.
“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” McCain said in a Tuesday letter to Duke. “We must treat this emergency relief with urgency ― every day that business owners are unable to recover their assets and account for lost business, the economy will retreat even further into devastation.”
Here’s the full letter:
DHS was not receptive to McCain’s request.
DHS spokesman David Lapan declined to comment specifically on McCain’s letter. But he said DHS’ ability to waive the Jones Act is limited to “national defense” purposes, and that its previous waiver was targeted at disruptions in the oil supply system resulting from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“The fuel concerns associated with Hurricane Harvey were driven by the loss of numerous refineries and the shutdown of the primary pipeline moving refined fuel to the East Coast and Southeast. In those cases, we needed additional vessel capacity to make up for those losses,” Lapan told HuffPost. “We do not lack U.S.-flagged vessel capacity to move commodities to Puerto Rico.”
Asked for comment on Puerto Rico having to pay twice as much for supplies at a time when it is economically and geographically devastated, Lapan said the department has not analyzed the potential cost savings of waiving the Jones Act “since that is not material to our decision-making.”
A group of eight House lawmakers reached out to Duke on Monday with the same waiver request as McCain. They were denied.
McCain has been trying to repeal the Jones Act for years. He introduced a bill in 2010 to get rid of it, and then again in July. The…