Washington, D.C.—The Biden administration announced a “temporary and targeted” waiver of the Jones Act in response to eastern seaboard oil supply constraints.
That announcement came as part of a week-long governmentwide response to a ransomware attack on a major fuel pipeline.
“In the interest of national defense, I have approved a temporary and targeted waiver request to an individual company,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.
“This waiver will help provide for the transport of oil products between the Gulf Coast and East Coast ports to ease oil supply constraints as a result of the interruptions in the operations of the Colonial Pipeline.”
Mayorkas said that decision was made after consultation with the departments of Defense, Transportation and Energy to ensure approval of the waiver was in the interest of national defense.
Dating back a century, the Jones Act requires all maritime cargo transport between U.S. ports to occur on U.S.-flagged vessels.
Mayorkas’ statement went on to explain his agency can grant a waiver to the Jones Act when U.S.-flagged vessels are not available to meet national defense requirements and only if the proposed shipments are in the interest of national defense.
His statement did not identify the company that made the request or provide additional information on why his agency concluded the national defense needs could not be met by available U.S.-flagged vessels.
Earlier in the week, Mayorkas vowed his agency would be ready to respond with “lightning speed” to determine if a temporary waiver was warranted.
In a separate press briefing, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said a survey of Jones Act-qualified vessels had been completed, and an analysis that usually takes days was finished in “a matter of hours.”
As news reports of fuel shortages, price hikes and even hoarding grew more dramatic in the affected states along the East Coast, Colonial Pipeline announced Wednesday it had initiated the restart of its system that carries fuel from Texas to New Jersey.
Colonial emphasized returning the supply chain to normal would take days.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “there’s an end in sight for the supply disruptions that have affected states across the Southeast.”
Psaki said the Biden administration will continue to offer assistance to Colonial Pipeline as it resumes operations.
She said the president will monitor the situation closely and continues to urge Americans not to hoard fuel as supply is restored.
A targeted waiver appeared to be acceptable to some.
“The American Maritime Partnership does not object to a targeted approach to issuing waivers when there is a legitimate need and when such action does not reward those who would utilize foreign vessels to game the system at the expense of American jobs and national security,” said Mike Roberts, president of the American Maritime Partnership.
White House Infrastructure Talks
President Joe Biden held a series of White House meetings with key lawmakers in hopes of finding common ground on improving the nation’s infrastructure.
Top Republicans said they used their meeting with the president to lay down markers that would seem to doom his infrastructure and jobs proposal that totals more than $2 trillion and calls for specific tax hikes.
“We’re not interested in reopening the 2017 tax bill,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, crediting that law for helping to create the best economy the U.S. has had in 50 years prior to the pandemic.
“That’s our redline.”
Both McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also stressed agreement must be reached on an infrastructure definition.
“That’s not home health,” McCarthy said, referencing the much broader definition Biden used in putting his massive proposal together.
“That’s roads, bridges, highways, airports, broadband. Those are the places we can find common ground and work together.”
Despite such stark differences with the president, both men described the meeting, which also included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), as productive.
Biden also remained positive during an appearance later on MSNBC.
He described a scenario that included a bipartisan deal covering traditional infrastructure and then working with Democrats to move the less traditional items in his package.
Next on his schedule was a meeting with a group of Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va).
Capito and other Senate Republicans put forward a framework on traditional infrastructure that totals $568 billion with user fees paying for at least part of that cost.
AAPA Infrastructure Requests
Chris Connor, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, urged senators to include in any large infrastructure package funding for intermodal freight movement connectors, electrification of dockside connections and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ navigation program.
“Our nation’s seaports deliver vital goods to consumers, facilitate the export of American-made goods, create jobs and support local and national economic growth,” he told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight and Ports.
“Ports also play a crucial role in our national defense: a point acknowledged through the designation of 17 of our nation’s ports as ‘Strategic Seaports’ by the Department of Defense.”
That panel’s hearing was entitled Freight Mobility: Strengthening America’s Supply Chains and Competitiveness.
Connor’s list of recommendations totaled billions of dollars.
Underscoring the need for that level of investment, he cited the expected growth of freight volumes in the coming decades.
National Waterways Conference (NWC) President and CEO Julie Ufner recommended her members reach out to their members of Congress on earmarks.
In an update on federal policy, Ufner noted while earmarks are back in play in both chambers, Senate Republicans have kept their caucus policy opposing them.
“It is up to the individual Republican senators if they request earmarks,” she stated.
On the House side, the House Appropriations Committee has posted requests on that panel’s website.
Leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have posted on that panel’s website 2,380 projects submitted by 318 members for the surface transportation reauthorization bill expected to move in the coming weeks.