The disruption of the Colonial Pipeline was a devastating reminder of America’s vulnerabilities in an age of rapidly evolving threats. But while this should have been a moment for unification around national security priorities, some saw this crisis as an opportunity to propagate misguided and inaccurate attacks on the Jones Act.
The Jones Act serves as the bedrock of American maritime law, ensuring that goods transported between U.S. ports are carried via U.S.-flag ships. The national security implications of this law are impossible to overstate. Ever wonder why you don’t see near peer competitor foreign-flagged ships sailing up the Mississippi or Hudson rivers? It is thanks to the Jones Act.
Additionally, the Jones Act ensures a strong maritime fleet manned by U.S. Merchant Marine ready and willing to answer the call in times of emergency. When the world is at peace, it is often forgotten that the U.S. flag fleet and Merchant Marine are essential to American war efforts as they are the ones that transport the equipment, fuel, food, troops and ammunition to active conflict zones around the world. During peacetime, it is easy to forget how vital these vessels are to our military readiness. Let’s not make that mistake again by weakening the Jones Act and depleting our flag fleet.
And the Jones Act contributes substantially to U.S. economic activity, creating 650,000 jobs, $16 billion in tax revenue, and $154 billion in total economic output. Additionally, the Jones Act is essential to our domestic shipbuilding industry and, as such, it supplies skilled jobs with strong wages.
Our competitors around the world see the value in such cabotage laws, which is why they have their own. According to a report published by Seafarer’s Rights International, 80% of the world’s coastlines of United Nations Maritime States are governed by national cabotage laws. Should America unilaterally disarm amid this highly competitive maritime environment? We at the Navy League would certainly oppose any such efforts, and Congress should do the same.
In regards to the gas shortage caused by the Colonial Pipeline, it is important to remember that Jones Act waivers can be granted in times of national emergency. Such waivers can be utilized after a devastating hurricane or flood or when Russian hackers shut down a gas pipeline. But even in these circumstances, the necessity of the Jones Act is roundly recognized, which is why waivers are carefully restricted and applied only to the most pressing concerns.
The waivers granted last week by the Biden administration reflect this understanding of the importance of the Jones Act, superseding any short-term considerations. So these waivers were limited in scope and applied based on commercial need rather than national security. It would appear that while the administration is moving quickly to address this crisis, they are doing so in a manner that is clearly cognizant of the dangers posed by any substantial weakening of the Jones Act.
The national security implications and the economic benefits of the Jones Act far outweigh any cost to the Navy League, along with our allies throughout the maritime community, recognize this. We strongly support the Jones Act and adamantly oppose any shortsighted efforts to weaken it. We ask Congress to review the facts when considering this issue and not be swayed by misleading arguments to the contrary. It is in America’s interest, especially at this moment of heightened global tensions, to safeguard our maritime industry and maintain our flag fleet. The Jones Act is essential to this effort.
Mike Stevens is CEO, Navy League of the United States and the 13th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.