Washington, D.C. — The American Maritime Partnership (AMP) and unions representing U.S. merchant mariners condemned the Biden administration’s waiver of the Jones Act as unlawful and unnecessary.
“We urge you to never approve a waiver like this again,” AMP stated in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who approved the waiver allowing a foreign-flag vessel to offload 300,000 barrels of diesel in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona.
Key federal agencies reported prior to the waiver that “there was no diesel fuel shortage in Puerto Rico,” AMP stated.
AMP blamed the fuel situation on the storm-ravaged island on difficulties with on-land distribution system.
Both AMP and the unions warned the action will lead to similar requests to waive the requirement that goods shipped between U.S. ports must be transported by U.S. vessels.
“The Jones Act is critical to our continued ability to maintain a domestic U.S.-flag merchant marine. As such, we take protecting it seriously,” stated the Seafarers International Union, American Maritime Officers, International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots and Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.
“This waiver is an undeserved slap in the face to American mariners and U.S.-flag vessel operators.”
In their statement, the unions also criticized the waiver’s timing, pointing to the worker shortages the industry faces.
“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the issuance of this waiver, and we urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to never approve a waiver like this again,” they stated.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment even though President Joe Biden routinely expresses strong support of unions.
Early in his presidency, Biden also emphasized his support of the Jones Act and criticized the previous administration for not taking the waiver matter seriously enough.
With just hours to go before a government shutdown, President Biden signed into law a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through December 16.
“There’s so much more to do,” Biden said. “But the passage of this bill reminds us that bipartisan work is possible and it gives us time to pass longer-term funding to keep our government running and delivering for the American people.”
H.R. 6833 received final congressional approval from the House by a vote of 230 to 201 one day after it was passed by the Senate by a vote of 72 to 25.
In addition to funding the government, Biden said the stopgap measure included money to meet other urgent needs such as providing relief for both red and blue states hit hard by Hurricane Ida and other devastating natural disasters, resettling Afghan allies in the U.S. and continuing the fight against COVID-19.
When Congress returns, appropriators will have very little time to pass full-year appropriations legislation.
“My colleagues must quickly accept a bipartisan framework that rejects poison pills, maintains important legacy riders, and demonstrates a serious commitment to our national defense,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he was committed to completing the appropriations process before the current Congress ends.
Both veteran senators are retiring at the end of this session.
Work continues on getting to a final version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022 that can pass both chambers of Congress and be sent to the president for his signature.
Reports indicate progress is being made with no serious sticking points.
A timeline remains unavailable, but supporters hope to have work completed when Congress reconvenes.
Congress has approved four biennial WRDA bills in a row and appears committed to adding to that record this year.
The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) announced a $500,000 contract to the National Academies of Science (NAS) for a study on intermodal chassis pools used by marine terminal operators, motor carriers, railroads and other stakeholders to transport ocean containers.
Mandated by the Ocean Shipping Reform Act (OSRA) of 2022, the contract also calls for recommendations on best practices for chassis management.
A “consensus committee of independent experts” to be appointed over the next several weeks will conduct the study.
The public will have the opportunity to comment on the makeup of the committee, FMC stated, adding individuals interested in serving on the committee, or in suggesting candidates, should contact Thomas Menzies and Mark Hutchins at 202-334-2000.
In its statement, FMC also pointed out it is meeting this OSRA requirement a “full seven months” ahead of the statutorily established deadline of April 2023.
Coast Guard Nominations
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) confirmed he has lifted a hold he placed on Coast Guard nominations to pressure the service’s leadership to address “serious bureaucratic failures” in his home state.
“They fixed it,” Sullivan said without offering specific details.
The Coast Guard also issued a positive statement.
“The Coast Guard is very grateful for the strong support from Senator Sullivan and the entire Alaska delegation,” a spokesperson said.
“The Coast Guard and the state of Alaska have a vitally important relationship, and we look forward to continuing that relationship with the continued support of Congress.”