The complicated revitalization agenda of Puerto Rico´s power grid faces obstacles that, mainly, include limitations in the transportation of materials and equipment. Therefore, making our energy transformation possible requires flexibility in the application of federal cabotage laws to the island.
It is important to persist in multi-sectoral efforts to convince the White House to extend, at least, a temporary waiver from the maritime statute to the Puerto Rican energy reconstruction activity.
The strong hurricane that last year collapsed the already deteriorated power grid has increased the demand for materials and equipment. But the structure of maritime transport, under the Jones Act, cannot fully satisfy that need.
Approved in 1920 as the Merchant Marine Act, the statute requires the use of American owned, registered and crewed ships for transportation between ports under US jurisdiction.
Waiving Puerto Rico –temporarily- from the Jones Act due to Hurricane Maria, last September, was an acknowledgment of the difficulties the island suffers in the supply of provisions.
After a year, the transport of goods is essentially done from a single Florida state port and with a handful of ships. Delays in the arrival of goods affect all types of activity: electricity, construction, food and health, among others.
The invitation to the Southern States Energy Board to demand the island's temporary waiver from cabotage laws for energy products was part of the efforts to convince the federal government of the fairness of the Puerto Rican request. The waiver would help our economic recovery.
The waiver would boost power works, by allowing international flag ships to join the transport of supplies destined to Puerto Rico. Currently, these ships have to reach a port in the United States and sail from there, which increases time and cost of maritime transportation.
The need is aggravated by our economic peculiarities, joining the fact that we do not share land borders with none of the 50 U.S. states.
Regarding similar geographical characteristics, the US Virgin Islands were waived from maritime cabotage laws and the state of Alaska, from the air cabotage legal framework.
Most local economists agree that these resolutions increase living and business costs. These costs also increased with the destruction Hurricane Maria caused in homes and infrastructure.
After the devastation, this was recognized last year by late Arizona senator, John McCain, and Mike Lee, a Senator from Utah. Both introduced legislation in Congress seeking to waive the island from the Jones Act, as a long-term relief with a reconstruction view.
Yesterday, the endorsement of the Southern States Energy Board, to waive Puerto Rico from the maritime cabotage laws on materials and equipment necessary for the electric revitalization, was not achieved.
However, the discussion of the Puerto Rican situation within the entity, made up by governors and legislatures of 16 southern states, provides a better climate for other energy initiatives that require support from the federal Administration or Congress. It also encourages conversations between island government officials, the Electric Power Authority and the Donald Trump administration on the matter.
Then, it is important for the Trump Administration to pay attention to the claims for tools that will open the way for energy justice on our island.
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