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While U.S. Senators and Representatives work as hard as the elves at Santa’s toy workshop to complete a spending package before Christmas, one member of Congress has crafted legislation to strengthen the Jones Act, the nation’s freight cabotage law.

Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) introduced on December 14 the “Close Agency Loopholes to the Jones Act” bill, which would close nearly 50 years of loopholes that have disadvantaged American workers by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB). Specifically, these loopholes allow federal regulators to circumvent the Jones Act, which states cargo carried between two domestic ports must be aboard U.S.-crewed, U.S.-built, U.S.-owned and U.S.-flag vessels

 “For nearly 50 years, Congress has stood on the sidelines while federal regulators made bad decisions that erode crucial protections for the American worker. The U.S. government should do everything in its power to prevent foreign vessels from paying poverty wages to take jobs from Americans working in our maritime industry. Sadly, it has largely enabled it instead,” Garamendi said.

“This stops today. My ‘Closing Agency Loopholes to the Jones Act’ would finally force federal regulators to enforce the law as Congress intended when it created the Jones Act in 1920. Passing my legislation means maximizing job opportunities for American mariners, U.S.-flagged vessels, and domestic shipyard workers,” Garamendi continued.

“In January 2021, President Biden’s first executive order after assuming office directed federal agencies to maximize the use of American mariners, American-built ships, and U.S.-flagged vessels under the Jones Act. Less than 90 days later, Customs and Border Protection issued a letter ruling contradicting the President’s policy to allow foreign vessels to construct energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. My bill will force the bureaucrats at CPB to implement the President’s policy by fully enforcing the Jones Act,” he added.

The “Close Agency Loopholes to the Jones Act” measure would:

  • Close the “oceanographic research vessel” loophole, thereby preventing commercial vessels engaging in seismic-blasting and similar pre-construction activities for offshore energy development in the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone at sea from skirting the Jones Act.
     
  • Close the “vessel equipment,” “lifting operations,” and “installation vessel” loopholes, thereby preventing vessels with cranes and similar equipment from moving building materials into place to construct offshore energy development in the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone at sea from skirting the Jones Act.
     
  • Close the “paid out, not unladen” loophole, thereby preventing vessels transporting and installing undersea cable between the mainland United States and fixed points like offshore platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf from skirting the Jones Act.
     
  • Close the “decommissioning” loophole, thereby preventing vessels decommissioning offshore platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf from skirting the Jones Act.
     
  • Close the “seabed sample” loophole, thereby preventing commercial vessels taking samples from the seafloor on the Outer Continental Shelf for offshore energy development from skirting the Jones Act.
     
  • Close the “pristine seabed” loophole, thereby preventing commercial vessels that artificially place rocks or other aggregates by vessel – known as “scour protection material” – on the seafloor of the Outer Continental Shelf for offshore energy development from skirting the Jones Act.
     
  • Allow Jones Act operators to appeal decisions – known as “letter rulings” – by CBP that undermine the Jones Act.
     
  • Subjects CBP’s enforcement of the Jones Act to the Congressional Review Act, which applies to nearly all other major national policy and regulatory decisions at federal agencies.
     
  • Requires foreign-flagged vessels operating on the outer Continental Shelf purporting to operate under a Jones Act exemption to publicly notify CBP’s citing the specific purported exemption and its legal basis.
     
  • Authorizes CBP to penalize foreign-flagged vessels operating on the Outer Continental Shelf under a purported Jones Act exemption for failing to notify the federal agency.

The full text of the legislation is available here.