September 28, 2017

Trump waives Jones Act shipping restrictions for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

President Trump waived shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico on Thursday at the request of the island's governor and after an outcry from Congress about shortages of fuel, food and emergency supplies in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The decision temporarily lifts the Jones Act's restrictions prohibiting foreign-flagged vessels from picking up and delivering fuel between U.S. ports. 

A one-two punch by Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the island in recent weeks, leaving residents with shortages of all supplies. Maria wiped out the power supply, destroyed cell towers and led to massive fuel shortages on the island that relies on diesel for much of its power. 

Elaine Duke, acting secretary of Homeland Security, said the waiver followed Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello's request and the Defense Department's determination that lifting the restrictions was in the interest of national defense. The waiver is in effect 10 days and covers all products.

"It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms," Duke said.

Rossello quickly thanked Trump for the assistance on Twitter.

The administration waived the act for Southeastern states — and included Puerto Rico for petroleum products — from Sept. 8 through 22, after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But Defense and Homeland Security officials said there were plenty of ships to supply Puerto Rico — the problem was moving supplies around the island because of roads blocked by trees and landslides.

Lawmakers including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., had urged the Trump administration to lift the restrictions and allow more supplies to reach the island.

Trump, who plans to visit the island next week, said Wednesday that he was studying the matter, but the U.S. shipping industry was opposed to waiving the law.

Sarah Sanders, Trump’s spokeswoman, tweeted Thursday the Jones Act would be waived.

“It will go into effect immediately,” Sanders said.

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