Detroit News: Missing the mark on the Jones Act

May 7, 2014


A recent opinion piece by University of Michigan professor Mark Perry quite literally missed the boat when it comes to understanding the critical role America’s domestic maritime industry plays in ensuring our national and economic security. The professor says the widely supported Merchant Marine Act of 1920 — better known as the Jones Act — hurts our nation’s security and our booming domestic energy production, assertions which could not be farther from the truth. Even more troubling however is the way Perry simply ignores the crucial role America’s domestic maritime industry currently plays in the economies of all the Great Lake states. Michigan in particular is home to 37 deep draft ports, more than the other seven Great Lakes states combined, and its maritime industry pumps more than $1.6 billion annually into the state’s economy.


The fact is America’s domestic maritime industry is playing a key role in the nation’s energy renaissance. Today, tankers and barges operating in the Jones Act fleet have the capacity to move approximately 30 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products. Because waterborne commerce is one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to move crude oil, petroleum products, and dry-bulk cargos as well, that number is only expected to grow.


When it comes to meeting the demands of the nation’s energy industry, America’s maritime industry is investing billions of dollars to help the country and is creating thousands of jobs for Americans while bolstering our national security. New U.S.-flag vessels will soon join other transportation infrastructure that is currently being built and upgraded to help meet the nation’s changing demands. These new vessels will provide millions of additional barrels of capacity when our nation needs it the most. American maritime will continue to respond aggressively to increased transportation demand as a result of the shale oil boom, and a strong domestic maritime industry is key to assuring the nation’s energy independence.


This is why the Jones Act, which serves as the foundation of the critical domestic maritime industry, receives overwhelmingly bipartisan support from the administration, Congress, and our nation’s military leaders.


Last year, Sen. Debbie Stabenow highlighted the fact that the Great Lakes are home to a robust marine transportation system. She noted that the movement of cargo by U.S.-flag vessels is critical to our economy, as it creates new jobs and supports domestic manufacturing. “Past administrations have resisted intense pressure from foreign nations to compromise our maritime programs in trade agreements, recognizing the potential adverse impacts on our national security and economic interests.”


As noted recently by the chair of the United States Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Mary Landrieu, D-La., the Jones Act is also a jobs act. The 40,000-plus vessels operating in the domestic maritime industry support nearly 500,000 American jobs and almost $100 billion in annual economic impact, which results in five indirect jobs created for every one direct maritime job.


The Jones Act is today a commercial and public policy success, which is why it has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support from every Administration for decades. American maritime has a distinguished heritage of helping our country expand, and it continues to do so as it grows to meet the nation’s changing energy needs. It is unfortunate the professor does not understand that, but I hope I have set the record straight.


James Weakley, president, Lake Carriers’ Association, which was founded in 1880


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