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Letter to President Biden: Grant Jones Act waiver to Puerto Rico

Sept. 27, 2022

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

In the wake of Hurricane Fiona’s destruction, and on behalf of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, I ask that you grant Puerto Rico a one-year exemption from the Jones Act. 

A one-year waiver from the 102-year-old maritime law is a humanitarian necessity, critical to relieving suffering and helping the 3 million people of Puerto Rico rebuild and recover.

Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 18 and drenched the island with 30 inches of rain, causing flash flooding and leaving more than 900,000 people without power. So far, at least 21 people have died as a result.

Fiona’s havoc exacerbates the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, which in 2017 claimed almost 3,000 lives and caused $40 billion in damage. Five years later, Puerto Rico still has not fully recovered. 

The Jones Act is partly to blame for this slow recovery. It has long been a drain on Puerto Rico’s economy. Research estimates that the law costs Puerto Rico as much as $1.5 billion annually, with consumers of food and beverages losing as much as $367 million.

Furthermore, because there are no liquid natural gas tankers compliant with the Jones Act, Puerto Rico must import all of its LNG from foreign sources — even though the U.S. is the world’s largest LNG producer. Without access to cheap U.S. LNG, Puerto Ricans must pay inflated costs for the fuel, which generates more than 40% of the island’s electricity. 

The people of Puerto Rico will need every spare dollar as they get back on their feet, and a one-year Jones Act waiver would help mitigate the high costs of rebuilding. 

The Jones Act is often heralded as a bulwark for the U.S. maritime industry and critical to U.S. national security. But its effectiveness at achieving these goals is in serious dispute. If U.S. security really does depend on a privately owned fleet, there must be a more equitable way to pay for such a policy. Asking the residents of Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and other U.S. communities dependent on ocean shipping to pay for a law that ostensibly benefits the entire country is simply unfair. 

But more than being unfair, the Jones Act hinders the U.S. military’s ability to provide disaster assistance. Both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Puerto Rico’s National Guard have mobilized in Puerto Rico, and their ability to effectively respond with supplies from the mainland will be limited by high Jones Act shipping costs.

As the dire situation in Puerto Rico demonstrates once again, the Jones Act is an impediment to economic prosperity in good times and an actual humanitarian threat during times of crisis. 

Therefore, on behalf of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, I ask that you immediately use your executive powers or other legal means to grant a one-year Jones Act waiver to Puerto Rico, in order to provide it with quick access to less expensive materials for cleanup, rebuilding and recovery. 

We also ask that you quickly approve any and all short-term waiver requests in Puerto Rico.

I sincerely hope you will ignore the small but powerful Jones Act constituency and grant waivers for the greater good of Puerto Rico and all Americans who are being harmed by this anachronistic law.

Thank you for your consideration.

E hana kākou (Let’s work together),

Keli‘i Akina
President and CEO
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

CC: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono
U.S. Rep. Ed Case
U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele

 

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