Jones Act of 1920 hinders best response to gulf oil spill in 2010

an oil spill skimmer ship in port

The Jones Act of 1920 was passed to protect U.S. shipping from foreign competition, but is keeping the most advanced clean up ships away from the BP oil spill in 2010. Flickr photo.

The Jones Act, a federal law passed in 1920, is making headlines in 2010 thanks to (what else?) the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010. The Jones Act was passed 90 years ago to give U.S. shipping companies an advantage over the rest of the world in U.S. waters. Today the Jones Act — which requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S. ships that were constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens and crewed by U.S. citizens  — is preventing the rest of the world from helping the U.S. clean up the BP oil spill with state of the art technology. If the Obama administration wasn’t previously aware of the effect the Jones Act is having on the disaster, chances are it is now. Instead of talking about passing a law that amplifies BP oil spill claims, perhaps a simple executive order suspending the Jones Act would be more productive.

Jones Act slows oil spill cleanup

The Jones Act prevented foreign companies from offering the U.S. assistance in the oil spill cleanup soon after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killed 11 people, sank, blew out the well and started an undersea gusher that has dumped up to 30,000 barrels of oil a day for the past 53 days. The Heritage Foundation reports that within days of the oil spill, several European nations offered the Obama administration ships to assist in the clean-up of the Gulf. A Belgian newspaper, De Standaard, said European firms  working with the U.S. could complete the task in three months, rather than an estimated nine months if done by the U.S. alone. According to De Standaard, no U.S. companies have the ships to accomplish this task is because those ships would cost twice as much to build in the U.S.

Oil clean up ships barred

The Jones Act is preventing the most advanced oil cleanup  ships owned by Belgian, Dutch and Norwegian firms from participating in the oil spill cleanup. Fox News says politics are taking precedent over ensuring the best possible oil spill cleanup effort. Joseph Carafano of the Heritage Foundation suggested to Fox News that the most effective and proven foreign oil cleanup ships remain on the sidelines because of the Obama administration’s close relationship with labor unions. Unions believe that the Jones Act protects American jobs, and those unions use their political clout to pressure lawmakers who would waive the law.

BP oil spill liability

Waiving the Jones Act may do more to blunt the damage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico than other legal moves being considered. The Wall Street Journal reports that President Obama, talking about BP oil spill liability on Thursday, said Congress must “update the laws to make sure that the people in the Gulf, the fishermen, the hotel owners, families who are dependent for their livelihoods in the Gulf, that they are all made whole.” But the Journal raises the question about whether a law about BP oil spill claims can be passed that focuses directly on a single company. But some law professors and corporate attorneys said creative Justice Department attorneys could use language in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to expand BP’s oil spill liability.

Time’s up for The Jones Act

The Jones Act, created to protect jobs in 1920, could be helping the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico eliminate jobs in 2010. People who earn a living in fishing, tourism and even the oil industry are watching their livelihoods being destroyed for years to come. The Heritage Foundation points out there are also private sector jobs not being created in the U.S. since the Jones Act prices U.S. companies out of the competitive global market. If mounting public awareness of the law results in the Jones Act being waived, the BP oil spill may be the catalyst for repealing it altogether.

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