Prominent Democrats have called for waiving or outright repealing the pro-union Jones Act, a nearly 100-year-old protectionist shipping law that critics charge is delaying hurricane relief for Puerto Rico.
The Jones Act of 1920 requires ships carrying goods between American ports to be built in the U.S. and crewed and owned by Americans.
Democrats like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.) want the Trump administration to waive the act, which is supported by unions like Seafarers International, in order to expedite shipping to Puerto Rico and reduce costs as it rebuilds after Hurricane Maria.
Gutierrez has called for it to be lifted "permanently," and NBC News reports that other critics have noted it forces Puerto Rico to absorb extra shipping costs because of the expenses for imported goods:
But opponents argue it's an anachronistic piece of legislation that unnecessarily raises the cost of imported goods for the island economy of Puerto Rico. They say Puerto Ricans, who depend on imports, absorb extra shipping costs for items that could be shipped directly from a nearby island like Jamaica but are instead routed through an American port.
Opponents also say it reduces Puerto Rico's competitiveness in the exports market, causing delays in shipping that wouldn't otherwise exist.
They are joined in their opposition by Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who on Tuesday wrote to the Department of Homeland Security that "it is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies, and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster."
The Department of Homeland Security waived the Jones Act in the wake of relief efforts for Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he has not decided yet whether to waive it in this instance, though.
"We're thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people, a lot of people who work in the shipping industry, that don't want the Jones Act lifted," he said.
The Jones Act also hampered clean-up efforts after the BP oil spill disaster in 2010.