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Lawmakers Oppose Puerto Rico's Jones Act Waiver Request

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Lawmakers Oppose Puerto Rico's Jones Act Waiver Request

A request by the Governor of Puerto Rico to allow foreign-flagged vessels to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States is getting push-back on Capitol Hill.

The Puerto Rican economy was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and the U.S. territory faces long-term energy needs to help with rebuilding. But the Jones Act, a 1920 maritime regulation, requires commercial vessels moving between the U.S. ports, including Puerto Rico, be US-built, crewed, and flagged. Puerto Rico requested in December that the U.S. issue a 10-year waiver of the law.

However, after hearing that the Trump Administration is considering approving the LNG waiver, Democratic and Republican leaders of the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure committee urged the request be denied.

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"Waivers of the Jones Act are constrained purposefully to rare cases where such a waiver is ‘necessary in the interest of national defense'," wrote Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Sam Graves (R-MO), the chairman and ranking member of the committee wrote in a February 6 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

"Even in those cases where the Secretary of Homeland Security may consider a waiver based on the same national defense pretext, the Secretary is required to consider other information and additional conditions, such as the availability of U.S. flag vessels."

The lawmakers noted that there were "many things" that could be and have been done to support Puerto Rico's recovery, however, "we believe there is no justification for waiving the Jones Act" especially for a 10-year period, they wrote.

The last time the Jones Act was temporarily lifted was during Hurricane Maria.

There have been frequent calls on Capitol Hill and outside the Beltway over the years to eliminate or modify the Jones Act. Those against the measure assert it is a protectionist law that restricts trade and adds costs for consumers. Supporters claim it helps support American shipbuilding and American jobs, and provides capacity and manpower for national security.

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