The Russia-Ukraine crisis and the suspension of Russian oil imports to Hawaii are spelling bad news for Hawaii’s energy consumers — which is basically almost everyone in the islands.
Keli’i Akina, president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, rode with radio host Michael W. Perry and his posse on Friday, March 4, to explain why the institute formally asked President Joe Biden and the Department of Homeland Security to grant Hawaii a one-year Jones Act waiver for its fuel imports.
Hear the 7 1/2-minute interview below. A transcript is included.
3-4-22, Keli’i Akina with Michael W. Perry on KSSK AM and FM
Michael W. Perry: Dr. Akina, are you there?
Keli’i Akina: Absolutely. I’m always here for Michael W. Perry.
Perry: Thanks, doc. You know, Dr. Akina is not only a member of the OHA [state Office of Hawaiian Affairs] board. He runs this thing called Grassroot Institute, which is the think tank. It may be some of the only thinking going on in the state of Hawaii, and he is on top of this oil situation. He’s been on top of this oil situation. OK, Dr. Akina: Hawaii’s only oil refinery — there’s actually two little ones together there; same people — they’re stopping importing Russian oil and a whole bunch of people didn’t realize we actually do import Russian oil. How was that going to affect us?
Akina: Well, Michael, I am sad to say that, that could be bad news for Hawaii, as it might send gas prices higher, even higher than we’re experiencing now.
You see, we currently import the vast majority of our oil from foreign countries. A lot of people just don’t know that, and that makes us extremely vulnerable in terms of energy security. Even before the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, we were already vulnerable.
Now here is the irony, Mike: While Texas is closer to us and produces some of the lowest-cost oil in the world, we go as far away as Russia to get our oil. In fact, Hawaii imports a quarter to a third of its oil from Russia. So we are going to be impacted.
Perry: Well, that’s stupid. Why couldn’t we get the oil from somewhere else? Like our own country. It’s right over there.
Akina: Absolutely, the greatest oil producer on earth that makes it available, and safely so for us, is the United States, our own country. But we don’t go to the United States for our Hawaii oil, and that’s largely an economic issue. The Jones Act is the reason for this.
Basically, we’ve talked about that a lot on your program. The Jones Act is a maritime law from the 1920s that says in the transport of goods between two U.S. ports, we have to use U.S.-built ships, U.S.-crewed ships, U.S.-owned-ships, U.S.-flagged ships.
Perry: Only one problem.
Akina: What that has done …
Perry: There aren’t any.
Akina: … is it raises the cost. … Yeah! There are so few of them and it makes the cost of shipping expensive tremendously. It also makes the cost of shipping in oil from the U.S. mainland so expensive that it’s much cheaper to ship in oil from Russia.
Perry: That is the most screwed up thing I have ever heard: We have to buy oil from Russia because it’s actually cheaper than the more environmentally friendly and closer oil we could get from our own country. That is the dumbest thing.
Yesterday, I know you did something and even I got shocked. I heard about it. You sent a message to the president of the United States yesterday. What did you ask him to do?
Akina: Absolutely. We paid close attention to his State of the Union address, in which he said he would open up American oil fields to meet the demand that is growing now, because of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. We think that’s a good first step, but we want him to go further.
We have appealed to the president of the United States and the Department of Homeland Security to waive the Jones Act for one year, to help Hawaii ship in more oil from the mainland.
Now, what that’s going to do is, it’s going to meet the immediate crisis, it will allow us to get the supply we need, now that Par Hawaii has suspended imports from Russia. We can get that from the United States; we should get it from the United States.
Secondly, it’ll give us a year to see how this works. Let’s see how the economy responds. Let’s see how supply and demand works when we open up American oil to Hawaii and make it economically feasible.
Perry: I have two final questions. What are the chances the president actually waives the Jones Act?
Akina: Mike, I might shock you by saying this, but I believe they are very good.
You see, presidents, whether they’re Democrat or Republican, from time to time waive the Jones Act for natural disasters, such as hurricanes. We’ve done that in the case of the East Coast or the Gulf area multiple times.
Now, certainly, we’re facing an emergency. With gas prices rising significantly, we need swift action on this archaic law of the Jones Act, and we think that our political leaders — and we’ve copied our request to our congressional delegation — we think our political leaders have to pay attention to us. Mike, in the long run …
Perry: Wait, hold on.
Akina: Go ahead.
Perry: Hold on, Keli’i. Hold on. That was my second question: Where the heck … We’ve been talking about this for literally months now. No, we’ve been talking about the Jones Act for decades. But when we found out that we’re getting up to a third of our oil from Russia, which was a couple of months ago, we said, where’s our congressional delegation here, why aren’t they taking the lead? It’s for Democrats. Why don’t Maizie [Hirono] and Brian [Schatz] and Kai [Kahele] and Ed [Case] demand that we get a waiver from the Jones Act? Where have they been on this?
Akina: You know, it’s funny, but although Grassroot Institute has reported this figure of our energy dependence upon Russia, and foreign countries, it hasn’t been picked up in our media here in Hawaii, and it hasn’t been followed through on by our political leaders. It wasn’t until this week that The Wall Street Journal reported our figures and then our local media got on this and we saw Par Hawaii respond.
I have to say this, Mike: While our congressional delegation has not yet responded, we do have a member of the delegation. Ed Case. who is very much in favor of bringing American oil to Hawaii and has sponsored some Jones Act reform bills himself. We worked with him at the institute on that.
Perry: Good for him.
Akina: We are hoping that the ball will get rolling, and the biggest thing that has to happen, Mike, is your listeners, all of us here as residents and citizens of Hawaii, need to get on the phone, we need to write letters and emails to our political leaders and tell them it’s time to act.
Perry: OK, one word from me, and they’re going to do exactly the opposite, but I think if everybody else gets in on this, that would be an amazing thing. This is infuriating, Dr. Akina. Totally infuriating.
Akina: Absolutely. This is not a political issue. It’s not about right or left, Democrat or Republican. It’s about meeting the basic needs for survival in Hawaii and national security as well.
Perry: You said it so well.
Dr. Keli’i Akina — he is the head of the Grassroot Institute. You can go there, by the way. It is a think tank and they actually do thinking. It’s just the darndest thing. He comes up with stuff like this, which makes so much sense, and you wonder why isn’t anybody else doing this.
Grassrootinstitute.org, if you want to go there. You kids who are listening in the car right now, this is on you, too. Guess what? Guess who is going to inherit all of this mess someday?
Keli’i, thank you very much for doing that with us.
Akina: Michael, thank you for your support. Much aloha.