The Biden administration waived the Jones Act again on October 16, around two weeks after the first waiver was issued for 2022. US Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Alexander Mayorkas issued the first waiver in response to Puerto Rico’s need for diesel fuel for generators powering residents’ homes and businesses. The waiver targeted the need for a British Petroleum ship to dock in Puerto Rico after idling off the coast. Now, the most recent waiver allows for liquified natural gas (LNG) shipments to Puerto Rico to further recovery efforts after Hurricane Fiona.
Secretary Mayorkas said in his statement on October 16 that he approved a “temporary and targeted Jones Act waiver to address the unique and urgent need for liquified natural gas in Puerto Rico” and added that, as with the first waiver, the decision was made “in consultation with the Departments of Transportation and Energy.” Mayorkas stated that the consultations with the Departments of Energy and Transportation were made to “assess the justification for the waiver request.”
Before issuing the waiver, Secretary Mayorkas also made his decision in consultation with the Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierlusi (NPP, D) and “others on the ground supporting recovery efforts” according to the DHS statement.
The DHS statement also details the procedure for issuing a Jones Act waiver—the clarification echoes verbatim the same statement detailed in the September 28 press release for the first waiver of the year. The statement reiterates that the Jones Act is “vital” to American shipbuilding and maritime industries and that the DHS may grant a Jones Act waiver if the proposed shipments are “in the interest of national defense.”
The statement continues, clarifying that, in 2020, congress eliminated the US government’s ability to issue long-term comprehensive waivers except in circumstances where a waiver is required to address an “immediate effect on military operations.” Now, waivers must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis under the law.
Because of the Jones Act waivers, Puerto Rico has been able to access resources that have provided temporary relief as the power grid is restored and as many residents wait for their own power to return. As of October 31, Poweroutage.us reports that around 6,000 customers are still without power in Puerto Rico (contrary to Luma energy’s claim that 99 percent of the power has been restored). As Puerto Rico recovers from Hurricane Fiona, back on the mainland, the limitations on issuing a Jones Act waiver and the procedure that comes with it have created issues between groups in the US government.
“Splash247,” a website that reports on maritime and shipping, relayed that bipartisan leaders of the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure recently expressed concerns related to Secretary Mayorkas issuing the first Jones Act waiver. According to “Splash247,” the House Committee stated that the consideration of a waiver, while a vessel is already underway, is “problematic” and that they seek answers from DHS on if the waiver was requested for “disaster arbitrage,” suggesting that it may have been requested to “take advantage of the people of Puerto Rico as they dealt with the impacts of Hurricane Fiona.”
The US House Committee, in referring to a “request,” is likely referring to the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s letter to Secretary Mayorkas asking that he waive the Jones Act for one year.
The first Jones Act waiver of the decade on September 28 was made in response to Hurricane Fiona. The most recent waiver before this year was in response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017. Amid intergovernmental concerns about policy and disagreements on procedure, the two most recent Jones Act waivers have allowed for both temporary power-outage relief and the continued operation of EcoElectrica, a natural gas power plant in Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, Governor Pierlusi states in a recent article that the restoration of Puerto Rico’s power grid and infrastructure is underway with “nearly 50 construction projects” and 18 renewable energy projects in either progress or planning. Governor Pierlusi added that funding is still going towards damaged homes while Puerto Rico awaits funding for a new power plant.
Pierluisi said in the same article that Puerto Rico’s economy is growing amid recovery and that nearly one million residents have registered for assistance as FEMA remains on the island. He said that around half of the registrations have been approved.