The Trump administration and DHS Secretary Elaine Duke announced on September 25, 2017 that it denied a waiver of federal shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico to help the island recover from the catastrophic Hurricane Maria. The Trump administration issued a similar waiver to Florida and Texas in the wake of Hurricane Irma. I reached out to the DHS about the tremendous urgency expressed by a quarter of a million supporters who have signed the Jones Act Waiver petition. Their reply was a canned response, likely copied and pasted from their press release. I've included an excerpt from the department's email below:
“Based on consultation with other Federal agencies, DHS’s current assessment is that there is [sic] sufficient numbers of US-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico.”
“After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the rationale for a Jones Act waiver was to facilitate movement of petroleum to numerous places along the east coast, and making up for the loss of very high capacity pipelines. The situation in Puerto Rico is much different.The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transfer cargo, not vessel availability.”
"Also, DHS waiver authority is actually quite limited and there are significant hurdles. Under current law, DHS can only waive the Jones Act for "national defense" purposes."
While port issues have been widely reported, DHS claims about limited discretionary authority seem somewhat misleading. The Trump administration claims to have limited power, yet the DHS Secretary is empowered to grant a Jones Act waiver under § 501(b) at her discretion by law. Not only does the statute clearly say she can make a decision, it also says she would make her decision in light of the "interests of national defense." The DHS Secretary may carry out this power on a discretionary basis. The Supreme Court has highlighted the power of agency discretion by historically refusing to mettle in similar agency decisions.(1) If the highest court in the U.S. won't touch agency discretion, are there really "significant hurdles" to granting a limited Jones Act waiver?
After DHS avoided the core issue with Puerto Rico's Jones Act grievances, and claimed to have their hands tied, Senator John McCain issued a letter demanding answers. In his letter, Senator McCain asked why the DHS Secretary found it within her discretion (a/k/a within the "interests of the national defense") to waive the Jones Act for Texas and Florida, while allowing the waiver to expire as flood waters and scarce resources threatened the lives of countless Americans in Puerto Rico.
Read Senator McCain's letter here.
(From Huffington Post)
The Jones Act waiver movement has another congressional supporter. On September 25, Slate reported:
"Nydia Velázquez, the Puerto Rico–born congresswoman who represents parts of New York City, has said she will ask Congress for a one-year waiver to Jones Act requirements for the territory. It’s a good example of a policy question that will test Washington’s willingness to change its approach to Puerto Rico wholesale—to reconsider, in other words, whether Puerto Ricans’ status as citizens without full rights is really working."
For every set back, there are many more glimmers of hope. Thank you for continuing to keep Puerto Rico in your thoughts, signing, and sharing this petition with influencers around the world.
I also want to share with you another avenue through which I will be posting updates and communicating with supporters. I started Title46.com as a way to track Puerto Rico's progress toward recovery without cluttering your inbox.
Puerto Rico se levanta!
(1) Lincoln v. Vigil, 508 U.S. 182, 191, 113 S. Ct. 2024, 124 L. Ed. 2d 101 (1993).