WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) delivered a speech on the U.S. Senate floor calling for an emergency waiver of the Jones Act, which requires many foreign vessels to go through a lengthy bureaucratic approval process in order to assist with the oil cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico. Sen. Hutchison, who is the Ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said she will introduce legislation to temporarily waive the Jones Act to allow foreign marine vessels to help with the cleanup. This extended waiver would be applied for a period of time that is necessary to respond and restore the waters of the Gulf.
“For many of the vessels wishing to respond [to the oil spill], this request needs to be reviewed by three separate agencies: The Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration, and Customs and Border Protection. That is three layers of bureaucracy when time is of the essence. During this crisis, we need to cut through the red tape. We must get all available assets on the scene as quickly as possible,” said Sen. Hutchison. “There are volunteers waiting with the right equipment, and they're willing to come to our aid. We should know that with oil leaking from the ocean's floor, the natural resources of the Gulf are being destroyed as we speak. We need every resource at our disposal to prevent further destruction.”
The Jones Act was put into place in 1920 to ensure that the United States was able to maintain a fleet of merchant ships by requiring that all goods and people transported by water between United State ports be carried in U.S. flagged, owned, and crewed ships. Currently, many Jones Act waivers require review by the Coast Guard, Maritime Administration, and Customs and Border Protection.
A transcript of Sen. Hutchison’s
remarks about the need for a speedy cleanup response effort, unhindered by
bureaucratic layers is below. Hutchison’s full speech is available on YouTube.
Emergency Waiver of the Jones Act for Oil Spill Cleanup
By U.S. Senator Kay Bailey HutchisonU.S. Senator Floor
June 17, 2010
Mr. President, I want to talk about obviously, the oil spill that is absorbing so much of the time and attention of our whole country. Also a minor point, but one that I think needs to be addressed right now that is the Jones Act.
The Jones Act was put in place in 1920 to ensure that the United States was able to maintain a fleet of merchant ships. So it was really for protection - flagged carriers against competition from foreign carriers that might undercut our ability to have profitable merchant ships. The Jones Act is currently preventing resources, however, from being used in the massive cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico. This legislation that has been on the books since 1920 is hindering foreign vessels from assisting Gulf communities, as they work to prevent oil from reaching their shores. Currently, foreign vessels need to obtain a Jones Act waiver from the federal government in order to help with the cleanup efforts. For many of the vessels wishing to respond, this request needs to be reviewed by three separate agencies: The coast guard, the maritime administration and customs and border protection. That is three layers of bureaucracy when time is of the essence. During this crisis, we need to cut through the red tape we must get all available assets on the scene as quickly as possible. I think everyone agrees – and other countries have offered their services; they've offered to help. There are European countries that also drill in the oceans and waters on their shores, and they've offered to send ships to help to try to absorb the oil and skim it off. There are volunteers waiting with the right equipment, and they're willing to come to our aid.
We should know that with oil leaking from the ocean's floor, the natural resources of the Gulf are being destroyed as we speak. We need every resource at our disposal to prevent further destruction. In my state of Texas, I have a constituent who would like to provide equipment to aid in the cleanup. His ship has a foreign flag, but he's unable to help because no waiver has been issued to the Jones Act in this particular crisis. There is precedent for waiving the Jones Act in disasters. It has been waived to speed up disaster response in the past, including a waiver that was issued in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago. It was done with an Executive Order. Without this key waiver, foreign vessels are prohibited from working with their American counterparts to skim the oil from the waters of the Gulf within three miles of shore. And, of course, that is where we desperately need to have the most help, to skim the oil before it reaches and damages our shores.
That is why next week I intend to introduce legislation that will waive the Jones Act for vessels whose sole intent is to assist in the cleanup of the Gulf of Mexico. We will ensure that these foreign ships will work under auspices of the Coast Guard. We will make sure that there is a clearinghouse for them but we should not be waiting to have three different federal agencies look at a Jones Act waiver request when we know what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico; we see the pictures every day. This waiver would be applied for a period of time that is necessary to respond to this oil spill and restore the waters of the Gulf of Mexico for this emergency. The federal response to this spill has been a little short of immediate. It's been a day late and a dollar short, and that is not acceptable, and it is time that Congress does what we can with sources that we have to urge the administration to act while it can to mitigate the damages that we know are already there.
It is time for us to be proactive. It is time for us to act.
So I will look forward to having cosponsors. I am in the process of getting
this bill in order now. I want to work with my colleagues on both sides of the
aisle. Our states have a bipartisan delegation. And I want to help do
everything possible. And if we can waive the Jones Act for this disaster, with
all of the appropriate cautions that are necessary, and get those foreign ships
that are ready to help our country, that have offered to help our country, to
get into the three-mile limit before this oil does further damage to you are
coast and to the wild life and the natural resources on our coast, we need to
This is something that should have been done weeks ago. It wasn't done, so it is time for congress to step in, and I hope my colleagues will help us move this expeditiously and urge the Administration to do what is within their realm, even before congress acts. That would be my wish, if the President would issue an Executive Order, that would do it. But since he hasn't, and since weeks have passed, I think it's time for congress to take the reins and try to do everything that is within our power to mitigate the damage to the gulf.
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