US renounces 100-year-old shipping law to help Puerto Rico

Last night on Sunday October 16thth, the Biden administration approved a waiver of US shipping rules to help Puerto Rico. The island is in dire need of liquefied natural gas following the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona.

The situation

On 09/18thOn May 15, 2022, Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 1 storm. It left an island-wide blackout for its 3.3 million people. Many Puerto Ricans were devastated and without electricity and water for a considerable time. Now, almost a month later to the day, the Biden administration is stepping in to help.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last night that the United States would issue a waiver of the Jones Act. The Jones Act, a 100-plus-year-old statute that requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be transported by a U.S.-flagged vessel, was repealed to “meet the needs of Puerto Rico while rescue efforts continue after Hurricane Fiona,” the ministry said in a statement.

The way forward

The Biden administration’s law follows approval by DHS in late September, which previously mandated the need for “sufficient diesel to run generators needed to power and operate critical facilities” following the widespread devastation that preceded almost a month.

Prior to the DHS approval, Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi asked the White House to repeal the Jones Act as fuel shortages became apparent. Along with a group of 8 lawmakers, they asked for a year-long waiver as they and their people face “an unprecedented uphill struggle to rebuild their homes, businesses and communities.”

The process took nearly a month because, according to a 2020 decision, the only long-term waivers allowed without review are those that adversely affect the US military. Aside from the timelines, the LNG waiver comes after consultation with the Departments of Transportation and Energy “to assess the justification for the waiver request and is based on input from the Puerto Rico governor and other locally supporting reclamation efforts,” he said US Secretary of State Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

Finally

Repeal of the Jones Act is no small feat, and the fact that the government was able to do so in less than a month shows just how devastating the situation in Puerto Rico is. The last time this was waived was in 2017 under the Trump administration. The response to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey resulted in a week-long waiver to ensure oil and gas operators ship fuel to emergency responders.

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