The Trump administration is waiving Jones Act requirements until September 15 to address a potential fuel shortage in Florida caused by the approaching Hurricane Irma and lingering Gulf Coast pipeline and refinery disruptions following Hurricane Harvey.
The Jones Act, which Nigeria’s Cabotage Act was modelled after, requires vessels transporting goods between US ports to be US-flagged, US-built and majority US-owned.
On Friday, Elaine Duke, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, signed a waiver which will allow gasoline and other refined products to move between US ports on foreign-flagged vessels over the next seven days.
The waiver is needed to “facilitate” shipments of refined petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, from ports in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Louisiana to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
The seven-day Jones Act waiver was recommended by both the US Defense and Energy departments. Administration officials may extend the waiver beyond seven days if they deem an extension necessary, according to administration officials.
“Hurricane Harvey significantly disrupted the distribution of fuel across the Southeastern states, and those states will soon experience one of the largest mass evacuations in American history while at the same time we’ll see historic movements through those states of restoration and response crews, followed by goods and commodities back into the devastated areas.”
The Jones Act waiver was first revealed by Brock Long, FEMA’s administrator, during a Friday morning briefing on Irma and was later confirmed by Thomas Bossert, Trump’s Homeland Security advisor, during a White House briefing Friday afternoon.
“As many tanker ships as possible are being brought to bear on the effort to bring as much fuel as possible in to help Floridians regardless of their flagged vessel status and that’s the best we can do,” Bossert said. The waiver was requested by SeaRiver Maritime in a September 2 letter to US Customs and Border Protection.
SeaRiver, a Houston-based subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, requested a 30-day waiver to “allow us to use foreign flag vessels to help alleviate disruptions to the transportation of crude oil and petroleum products to the affected areas as well as other US regions supplied from Texas,” according to a letter released by CBP.
“While we continue to canvass the market, Jones Act tonnage remains in very tight supply and we are frequently unable to identify suitable tonnage within the given parameters,” the company wrote.