The U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, held hearings on Oct. 3, 2017 (“Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Coast Guard Stakeholders’ Perspectives and Jones Act Fleet Capabilities”), taking testimony from four representatives of the domestic U.S. maritime or Jones Act industry.
The subcommittee did not call witnesses representing the users of the U.S. domestic maritime industry, including merchant cargo owners known as shippers, or other stakeholders such as consumer representatives, who actually pay the freight.
Essentially the hearing was entirely skewed to support the already extensively protected and subsidized domestic maritime industry without regards to its customers.
The Republican and Democratic members of the subcommittee are virtually all strong supporters of the Jones Act and typically receive industry backing in turn.
The chairman of the subcommittee is Duncan D Hunter (R-CA), representing San Diego County where the General Dynamics NASSCO shipbuilding yard is located.
The ranking member is John Garamendi (D-CA), representing areas of Northern California between San Francisco and Sacramento. In the past, Garamendi has introduced legislation that would require the use of U.S.- flag shipping in the foreign trade of the U.S., which is today what is known from the maritime perspective as an “open trade.”
There are other notable members on the subcommittee: Donald E. “Don” Young (R-AK), who has been in Congress since 1973 and despite the long tradition in Alaska seeking Jones Act reform has doggedly supported maritime cabotage garnering support of the state’s labor unions. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), representing Baltimore County, MD, is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and a longtime strong proponent of the Jones Act.
Chairman Hunter in his prepared remarks stated the subcommittee’s position on Jones act cabotage and how it relates to the Hurricane Maria recovery on Puerto Rico:
“Hurricane Maria was a Category 5 hurricane when it hit the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Included in the response efforts were U.S.-flag vessels. There are 15 vessels that regularly supply Puerto Rico with cargo. These vessels were prepared with food and water, equipment and supplies to restore power, and emergency relief provisions for FEMA and the Red Cross.
“Critics continue to assail the U.S.-flag fleet and the Jones Act as an antiquated industry and law, unnecessary in today’s world. These critics promoted claims that the law prohibited supplies from getting to Puerto Rico. However, as we know, that was false. Supplies have been getting to the island and have been backlogged at the ports, due to the devastation of logistics on the island. Foreign vessels are also bringing fuel and supplies to the island from foreign ports; the Jones Act does not prohibit that from happening.
“There are over 40,000 U.S.-flag vessels that work U.S. waterways. These vessels are U.S. –built, –owned, and –crewed. These are good American jobs. This should be a positive thing, not critiqued as antiquated or expensive.
“The Jones Act also ensures that our country has U.S. merchant mariners available to man U.S. military support vessels. This is a point ignored by many and something that needs more attention. Currently, we have enough U.S. mariners to support our current sealift response needs. However, we could reach a shortage if multiple military events were to occur around the world.
“If we support made in America, U.S. jobs and U.S. citizens – we should always support the Jones Act.”
The Journal of Commerce reported on the hearings and noted statements by Don Young of Alaska, who is concerned that the people in Hawaii and Puerto Rico have the gall to challenge the Jones Act:
“Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said the 10-day waiver should not be extended. He agreed with Hunter, and other subcommittee members that Jones Act critics are using the Puerto Rico crisis as an opportunity to undermine the act.
“I’m a little concerned about that nose under the tent, because it’s not the first time they’ve tried to do it,” Young said. “They’re trying to do it in Hawaii, and they’re trying to do it in Puerto Rico, and down the line. … This is not the first time this has occurred.”
The witness lineup for the hearings, the makeup of subcommittee and the views of the subcommittee members clearly show how biased the subcommittee and its activities are in favor of the domestic maritime industry, i.e., Big Shipping.