Washington - The Southern States Energy Board is scheduled to vote today, in Biloxi, Mississippi, the resolution that requests a temporary or permanent waiver for Puerto Rico from federal cabotage laws, regarding the transportation of energy products.
In support of the efforts to rebuild the island after Hurricane Maria, the resolution of the governments of the Southern States proposes to the White House a ten-year waiver through administrative means and a propose a permanent waiver to Congress.
Senate Vice President Larry Seilhamer, Popular Democratic Party (PPD) Senator Eduardo Bhatia and New Progressive Party (PPD) representative Jose Aponte would be present during the discussion of the proposal as part of a meeting of the Southern States Energy Board that began yesterday.
Seilhamer is co-author of the measure, along with Arkansas State Senator Gary Stublefield.
The Southern States Energy Board brings together governors and legislators from 16 states, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Both the Puerto Rico Senate and the House of Representatives approved the expressions of support for the resolution that will be discussed today.
Aponte argued that the measure does not make any reference to the period the exemption would be in force. "If it is approved for a ten-year period, we will be supporting it," he said.
The measure mentions the collapse of the power grid following Hurricane Maria and the impact it had on the transportation of "equipment and materials."
Important private organizations have asked the Ricardo Rossello Nevares’ government to extend the claim to include all maritime cargo between US ports and Puerto Rico, after having seen how the government's recovery plan tempered its request in favor of a cabotage rules waiver.
The Jones Act of 1920 demands – for cargo transportation between the mainland and Puerto Rico - the use of American owned, registered and crewed ships, which are considered to be the most expensive ones.
"Anyone who says that the Jones Act is not harmful is not living here," said Johnny Fernandez, executive director of Zona Libre del Sur (Southern Free Trade Zone).
Jose Ortiez, executive director of the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) - who was in Washington D.C. two weeks ago to promote the idea - said that the issue was going to be discussed the White House last week.
It is not clear if the issue was raised during a meeting that the Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin attended last Wednesday at the White House to coordinate the message that the federal government wants to bring this week, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the catastrophe left by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
According to Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez, the activities of the federal government would include the visit of Pamela Hughes Patenaude, deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and perhaps Secretary Ben Carson.
Sources indicated that the president of the Economic Development Bank (EDB), Luis Burdiel – friend of White House legal counsel, Donald McGahn - had a meeting that same day in the White House - to which he would be accompanied by the governor representative in Washington DC, Carlos Mercader- to promote the temporary exemption in cabotage rules.
But the Puerto Rican government did not confirmed whether Rivera Marin - who has been criticized for his refusal to question Donald Trump’s government response or even have differences with the US President – attended the same meeting.
At a time when the White House sought to refine its message about the recovery process in Puerto Rico, Trump unleashed a chain of tweets questioning the magnitude of the catastrophe due to Hurricane Maria by objecting to the now official death toll -2,975- accepted by Rossello Nevares government.
Trump also quoted conservative commentator Lou Dobbs, who accuses the Puerto Rican government of being one of the most corrupt in the U.S.
Rosello Nevares criticizes Trump again
Yesterday, Rossello Nevares was approached again regarding President Trump's insistence on minimizing the island’s death toll due to the emergency caused by Hurricane Maria.
When asked if he would say that President Trump lies about the issue, Rossello Nevares said: "Yes, that's not the right data."
"Neither the people of Puerto Rico nor the victims deserve their pain to be questioned," said Rossello Nevares in an interview with Univision.
On the other hand, Rossello also said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a lot to explain regarding the reasons for leaving 12 million bottles of water in a runway in Ceiba in February.
"If they had 12 million bottles of water here, how come they were not distributed? Why were they left on a runway? For me, that has no explanation," said the governor.
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