- - Monday, April 24, 2017


As chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, I am proud to be an unwavering defender of the Jones Act — a critical U.S. national security law that requires vessels moving from one U.S. port to another must be U.S.-built and U.S.-crewed.

The Jones Act, in fact, is the quintessential definition of “Buy American, Hire American.” It’s also a point that President Trump, along with his national security and economic teams, would be well-served to recognize in the effort to revive American industry and capability.

While often conflated by foreign interests, the Jones Act ensures that vessels and workers engaged in coastwise trade are U.S.-compliant while providing domestic shipbuilding and mariner capacity to support our armed forces at times of war.

Underscoring the wide reach and necessity of the Jones Act, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Officer Michael Herbert recently spoke to a group of maritime executives outlining the unique national security challenges his office faces when policing the Gulf of Mexico. He addressed the inherent difficulties in trying to police and protect the more than 95,000 miles of coastline in the United States.

In his remarks, Officer Herbert spoke about the importance of the Jones Act and its critical role in protecting the homeland first and foremost. In the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, this law also applies to vessels servicing the offshore platforms that deliver our nation’s energy supplies — exactly the type of critical infrastructure that CBP and others are committed to protecting.

Because of this, the Jones Act has been supported by every modern president and has explicit support from our nation’s Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy leadership. To further emphasize this crucial maritime capacity, CBP recently established the Jones Act Division of Enforcement (JADE) in New Orleans to support the office in ensuring vessel compliance.

Going even further, with the intent to ensure foreign crews are prevented from gaining access to our most precious and integral infrastructure, CBP issued a revocation of previous letter rulings affecting offshore service vessels that allowed foreign companies and crews to take advantage of a loophole and circumvent the build and staffing requirements of the Jones Act.

Naturally, foreign entities are now upset that their loophole has been closed and are making unfounded claims to pressure on the CBP to drop the revocation.

The fact of the matter is that if the revocation proceeds, as it should, there will be 3,200 U.S. jobs generated in the Gulf of Mexico alone with absolutely no disruption of offshore energy exploration and production. The added benefit of these jobs means that an estimated additional 1,000 mariners will be qualified to help the U.S. Ready Reserve Fleet, which is activated in times of war to move military cargo to war zones.

Further delay or termination of the revocation, as desired by these foreign entities, would reward foreign workers and companies who are skirting U.S. labor and tax requirements. Not only that, doing so would negate the more than $2 billion that U.S. offshore companies have invested to expand their fleets to meet the capacity requirements of this market.

Put another way, foreign workers will continue to exploit this loophole and potentially gain access to our critical energy infrastructure with no oversight from CBP or the U.S. Coast Guard.

As Officer Herbert rightly noted, “There’s no way that we could enforce our national security laws without the Jones Act.”

Therefore, the choice comes down to supporting U.S. mariners and shipyard workers, keeping U.S. critical energy infrastructure safe with no disruption to our offshore energy exploration and production and in compliance with U.S. law, or allowing foreign interests to prevail in undermining all of the above.

CBP’s intent to uphold the extraordinary importance of the Jones Act should be commended. No different, it’s in America’s interests to recognize the significance of the Jones Act in strengthening U.S. maritime and national security.

• Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and former U.S. Marine, is chairman of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.

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