Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday approved a federal waiver opening up the potential for additional diesel to be shipped to Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Fiona last week.
The announcement of the Jones Act waiver approval comes after the Biden administration faced increasing pressure to approve it to allow a British Petroleum ship loaded with diesel to enter one of Puerto Rico’s ports.
The Jones Act – also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – requires all goods ferried between US ports to be carried on ships built, owned and operated by Americans. But those ships are far more expensive to buy and operate than foreign ones, making just about everything in Puerto Rico more expensive.
DHS may grant a waiver when American vessels are not available to meet national defense requirements.
On Tuesday, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell said DHS was “actively” working on the approval process, but emphasized that the request needed to meet legal requirements put in place by Congress.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi had asked the DHS secretary to personally intervene in the matter, and eight members of Congress, led by New York Democratic Rep. Nydia Velazquez, issued a letter to Mayorkas calling for a temporary waiver. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah also called on the federal government to issue a waiver.
Mayorkas said in a Wednesday statement that DHS would approve a “temporary and targeted” waiver.
“In response to urgent and immediate needs of the Puerto Rican people in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, I have approved a temporary and targeted Jones Act waiver to ensure that the people of Puerto Rican have sufficient diesel to run generators needed for electricity and the functioning critical facilities as they recover from Hurricane Fiona,” the secretary said.
Puerto Rico has before received a disaster-related Jones Act waiver when then-President Donald Trump issued a waiver after Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017.