Why Did the Administration Waive U.S. Law 46 Times to Help Foreign-Owned Shippers at the Expense of U.S. Maritime Workers?

08/27/2011 10:05 am ET | Updated Oct 27, 2011

News outlets recently reported that the Obama Administration waived the Jones Act no less than 46 times following its decision to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in late June.

The Jones Act, a section of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, requires that only American-built, owned, and crewed vessels can operate when shipping cargo between two U.S. ports.

In order to get around the law, the Administration declared that the cutoff of oil supplies as a result of the conflict in Libya created a national emergency, allowing for waivers of the law to be issued.

The news reports stated that oil companies seeking to move tens of millions of barrels of domestic crude oil from the Strategic Reserve storage sites in the Gulf Region to refineries on the East Coast sought and received at least 46 waivers allowing them to hire foreign-owned tankers, staffed by foreign crew, to transport the oil.

American maritime workers are wondering: How could the Administration give foreign shippers and foreign crews advantage over U.S. shippers and U.S. crews traveling on U.S. waters to carry oil to U.S. facilities? I presume the reason is to save the oil corporations money on their shipping costs. These are the same corporations which have wreaked environmental catastrophe and reported record profits at the same time that high gas prices have further dragged down the struggling economy.

The Obama Administration has claimed that the reason for the large numbers of waivers of U.S. law is that U.S.-owned fleets only had small barges available to transport the oil, which would have slowed the process of getting the oil to market to lower the price of gasoline.

However, this claim has been disputed by representatives of domestic ship and barge operators. They point out that the oil shipments could easily have been broken into smaller amounts and that there were plenty of domestic ships and American crew capable of transporting the oil. U.S. maritime industry representatives have also pointed out that 10 million of the 30 million barrels of oil have not yet been transported, despite the large number of waivers issued.

In March, I sent a letter to the President, asking him to approve a release of crude oil from the Reserve to protect the fragile economic recovery. According to news reports, since the President's decision to release crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, oil has been shipped within U.S. borders on barges and tankers registered in countries like Panama and the Marshall Islands, employing foreign crews.

There are many unemployed American mariners who need work. Oil company executives are not standing in the unemployment line. The Administration's short-sightedness has meant that oil companies -- which hired foreign-flagged barges that do not employ American workers, do not pay U.S. taxes, and do not follow U.S. environmental rules -- benefited, while American mariners continue to try to weather this terrible economic storm.