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Cabotage Law, included in the Jones Act of 1920, requires goods shipped between U.S. and Puerto Rican ports to be transported on U.S- built, owned and crewed ships. (GFR Media)

Washington - Colin Grabow, policy analyst at Cato Institute, in Washington, thinks it is discouraging that, in an era of many partisan divisions, Congress Democrats and Republicans join forces to oppose to a waiver from Cabotage Rules for Puerto Rico to transport natural gas.

“It’s notable and depressing that rare bipartisanship is found in shared opposition to a measure which would provide the struggling people of Puerto Rico access to cheaper energy,” said yesterday Grabow.  

Grabow was talking about the letter that this week “both the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure” sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen urging her to reject the 10-year waiver request for Puerto Rico to transport natural gas as part of the island´s energy transformation process.

“It is our belief that no valid national defense rationale exists to support this waiver request of the Jones Act for Puerto Rico, especially for a ten-year period,” wrote the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Peter DeFazio (Democrat-Oregon) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (Republican-Missouri)

Cabotage Law, included in the Jones Act of 1920, requires goods shipped between U.S. and Puerto Rican ports to be transported on U.S- built, owned and crewed ships.

Democrats usually support shipping unions while Republicans use to support the maritime industry.

Rosselló Nevares applied for a waiver last December based on the fact that there are no U.S. vessels available to transport natural gas from the mainland to Puerto Rico. The request would have been filed before the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Defense.

According to experts, Puerto Rico would have to justify national security reasons to be granted a waiver from Cabotage Laws. The local government did not disclose the request.

“Given that no American ship would be displaced by this waiver, nor would a single mariner lose his job, one can’t help but wonder from where such opposition emanates. The cynic—typically proven correct in today’s Washington—would suspect it’s because such a waiver and the savings it generates would raise broader questions about the wisdom of keeping the Jones Act in place,” said Grabow who attributed positions against the Puerto Rican government “to special interests that benefit from the higher costs the Jones Act produces.”

The Cato Institute, a libertarian organization, have advocated for the repeal of Cabotage Laws.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rico Shipping Association (PRSA) said that the island has time to prepare to ensure the transportation of natural gas from the U.S if the energy system transformation moves toward a wider use of natural gas and import it from the U.S. were the best option.

Eduardo Pagán, president of the PRSA and general manager at Tote Maritime indicated that in other jurisdictions, a transformation like the one the government seems to be planning for the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) takes four or five years.

On the other hand, if there were an agreement between the Puerto Rican government –or a company willing to transport natural gas from the U.S.- and a company interested in building a vessel, it may take two years to have a ship that meets the potential needs of the local government, said Pagán.

For Pagán, "this matter is not about national security," as the Rosselló government would have argued and said that he correct thing would have been to find the mechanism that allows a waiver through economic considerations, since natural gas in the U.S. is cheaper.

And he said that the alternative is to apply for a specific waiver for certain non-U.S. ships, like the one the island was granted in 2012 but did not use because the Gas Pipeline project was cancelled.

The government of Puerto Rico plans to use gas for two units in the San Juan plant. Pagán -who assured he did not participate in the government´s request- said that he believed the proposal for PREPA ponders buying natural gas for those two units in Jamaica.


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