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Biden "noncommittal" on waiving Jones Act for BP fuel ship offshore Puerto Rico

The White House is trying to balance the needs of Puerto Ricans to its promises to labor unions.

President Joe Biden 2022
President Joe Biden | The White House/Wikimedia Commons

September 27, 2022 1:28pm

Updated: September 28, 2022 1:52pm

President Joe Biden is facing increasing pressure to waive shipping restrictions popular with labor unions that are keeping a British Petroleum (BP) fuel ship from docking at hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.  

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, requires all goods transported between U.S. ports be carried on U.S. made ships that are owned by her citizens, while flying the Stars and Stripes flag while remaining crewed by American citizens or permanent residents.

Because the BP ship does not meet all these requirements, it has been idling off the island’s coast as it awaits a waiver for the Jones Act, which the Washington Post notes is backed by labor unions and “key to the president’s ‘Made in America’ agenda.”

“The debate highlights the challenge Biden faces as he balances competing appeals from two constituencies he has pledged to champion as president: labor unions and the residents of Puerto Rico,” writes Toruse Olorunnipa and Jeff Stein wrote in the piece.

Those calling for White House action include the governor of Puerto Rico, members of Congress and local activists – all concerned that that ship may soon leave the island behind.

“We have spent a week without water or power. The authorities haven’t done anything for us. It’s very bad here. It’s rough. Those who come by give us a little water and leave. We are in a rough shape. We lost everything. We are in a bad situation,” Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierlusi said Monday.

A delegation of Puerto Rican lawmakers – three from the state’s House, one from its Senate – met with administration officials on Monday to make their case for a Jones Act waiver and relaxing immigrations restriction to the island to allow high-skilled workers, reports The Post.

Stein said on Twitter than Biden aides have been “noncommittal” about a waiver.

White House officials said the Biden administration does not have the authority to simply suspend the Jones Act because of a recent congressional action restricting broad waivers. One anonymous administration official told The Post that request would have to go through an in-depth review.

The American Maritime Partnership, which represents operators of U.S.-flagged vessels and unions covered by the Jones Act, argued in a letter to the administration Friday that the Jones Act did not need to be waived because domestic ships were ready and available.

Biden previously endeared himself to unions on the campaign trail in part by repeatedly voicing support for the Jones Act. Shortly after his inauguration, he signed an executive order promoting “Made in America” policies that cites the Jones Act as an example.