White House lets Jones Act waiver expire for Puerto Rico

The White House has let a 10-day shipping waiver expire for Puerto Rico, meaning foreign ships can no longer bring aid to the hurricane-ravaged island from U.S. ports.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Monday that the Jones Act waiver, which expired on Sunday, will not be extended.

U.S. lawmakers and Puerto Rican officials had been pushing the administration for an exemption from the Jones Act, a century-old law that only allows American-built and -operated vessels to make cargo shipments between U.S. ports.

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They argued that the waiver would help deliver gasoline and other critical supplies more quickly and cheaply to the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The island could be rebuilding and without power for months.

The Trump administration issued a weeklong waiver for Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, extending it for an additional week in September to bolster relief efforts.

But the White House did not initially lift the shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico, sparking widespread public outcry and fueling accusations that Trump is treating the U.S. territory differently than the states hit by hurricanes.

The administration agreed to temporarily lift the shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico on Sept. 28.

But officials have warned that the biggest challenge for relief efforts is getting supplies distributed around Puerto Rico once they arrive, while the U.S. shipping industry maintains that there are adequate domestic companies available to assist with Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts.

Lawmakers in Congress are still pushing to roll back the Jones Act, with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) recently introducing legislation that would permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the shipping law.

At McCain’s request, the bill was put on the Senate calendar under a fast-track procedure that allows it to bypass the normal committee process, but it has not been scheduled for any floor time. 

“Now that the temporary Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico has expired, it is more important than ever for Congress to pass my bill to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from this archaic and burdensome law," McCain said in a statement.

"Until we provide Puerto Rico with long-term relief, the Jones Act will continue to hinder much-needed efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from Hurricane Maria.”

--This story was updated at 4:15 p.m.