President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration is considering waiving the Jones Act to help aid reach the decimated island of Puerto Rico more easily.
The Jones Act is a 1920 law designed to protect American interests against foreign countries. Also known as the Merchant Marine Act, it stipulates that goods delivered between U.S. ports must travel on vessels that are primarily American made and be staffed by American crews. The boats must also be owned by U.S. citizens.
Trump said he hadn’t yet decided if he would waive the law for Puerto Rico, as had been done for Texas and Florida following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
"We're thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people, a lot of people who work in the shipping industry, that don't want the Jones Act lifted," he said.
Merchants argue that the law protects their business against foreign competition, but opponents of the nearly century-old legislation say it makes goods in states like Alaska and Hawaii, as well as U.S. territory Puerto Rico, more expensive.
"After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the rationale for a Jones Act waiver was to facilitate movement of petroleum to numerous places along the East Coast, and making up for the loss of very high capacity pipelines,” said Gregory Moore, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection. “The situation in Puerto Rico is much different."
The waiver after Harvey and Irma did include Puerto Rico, but it expired last week before the island was struck by Hurricane Maria, its worst storm in decades. Food, water and gas are in short supply on the island, large portions of which have been completely decimated.
There is bipartisan support in Congress for the waiver to expedite aid to Puerto Rico. The U.S. Virgin Islands, which were also hit, have a permanent Jones Act waiver.
"These emergency waivers have been valuable to speed up recovery efforts in the impacted regions," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday. "It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster."
Trump is expected to visit Puerto Rico, which may be without electricity for over a month, on Tuesday.