On September 28, United States Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro M. Nayorkas released a statement, officially approving a temporary waiver targeting the Jones Act. The archaic legislation recently prevented a non-US flagged ship from docking in Puerto Rico and delivering 300,000 barrels of diesel fuel. The fuel, delivered on a British Petroleum ship, was intended for generators that many of Puerto Rico’s residents and businesses have been relying on while the power grid is being restored.
The diesel fuel arrives just on time as, on September 29, over 311,000 customers out of 1.47 million were still without power more than ten days after Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico. Luma Energy, the power company providing energy for Puerto Rico, claims that they have restored power to 99% of customers affected by Hurricane Fiona. As of October 12, 21,782 customers were still left without power according to poweroutage.us.
Secretary Nayorkas said in his statement that his decision was made in consultation with the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Defense to “assess the justification for the waiver request and based on input from the Governor of Puerto Rico and others on the ground supporting recovery efforts.” In the Department of Homeland Security’s press release on the subject, the department states, “The Jones Act is vital to maintaining the strength of the American shipbuilding and maritime industries.” and that it may only be waived if “proposed shipments are in the interest of national defense and after careful evaluation of the issue.”
On September 22, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus issued a letter to Secretary Mayorkas calling on the DHS to provide a “one-year comprehensive waiver of the Jones Act requirements for Puerto Rico.” The letter states, “As members of congress, we believe it is our responsibility to ensure that the Federal Government promotes the economic development and security of every community across the country.”
The letter was signed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D) of New York who, in 2020, stated on Twitter that “we must lift the Jones Act, which has exploited Puerto Rican customers and strangled the economy.” Before 2020, it was possible to issue long-term waivers until congress removed the government’s authority to do so. Now, unless a waiver is intended to address “an immediate adverse effect” on military operations, the waiver must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis according to the DHS.
On September 28, Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierlusi (NPP, D) thanked Secretary Mayorkas and the Biden Administration in a tweet for their “continued support” of Puerto Rico.