The Biden administration said Wednesday it had granted approval of a limited exemption in federal regulations on cabotage — or the transport of goods — in order to allow a foreign ship to bring 300,000 barrels of diesel to Puerto Rico days after Hurricane Fiona battered the U.S. territory.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement on Wednesday that the approval for the Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico was “in response to urgent and immediate needs of” the island as it recovers from Fiona, which officials have said killed multiple people there.
“I have approved a temporary and targeted Jones Act waiver to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico have sufficient diesel to run generators needed for electricity and the functioning critical facilities as they recover from Hurricane Fiona,” Mayorkas said. “The decision to approve the waiver was made in consultation with the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Defense to assess the justification for the waiver request and based on input from the Governor of Puerto Rico and others on the ground supporting recovery efforts.”
On Tuesday, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi requested in a letter to President Joe Biden that the Jones Act be waived amid the emergency on the island after Fiona. Pierluisi warned that a shortage of fuel would have an impact on government operations, security and public health.
“Diesel supplies continue to decrease at a higher rate than previously anticipated, and shortages have been reported around the island,” he wrote.
The Jones Act has been waived during previous hurricanes, such as Maria in 2017. This new waiver comes more than a week after Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico. (A separate hurricane, Ian, made landfall in Florida on Wednesday.)
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, best known as the Jones Act, requires that all goods transported to Puerto Rico and other American ports be aboard a ship built in the U.S., owned and crewed by Americans and flying the U.S. flag.
The Marshall Islands-flagged ship that is bringing Puerto Rico diesel was hired by British Petroleum. BP had applied for a Jones Act exemption since Sept. 20.
“When U.S. flagged vessels are not available to meet national defense requirements, the Department of Homeland Security may grant a waiver to the Jones Act if the proposed shipments are in the interest of national defense and after careful evaluation of the issue,” according to DHS.
In his statement, Mayorkas noted that, despite waivers during emergencies, the Jones Act is vital to maintaining the strength of America’s shipbuilding and maritime industries.
The Biden administration previously committed its resources to assisting Puerto Rico during and after Fiona.
The island has still been recovering from the effects of Hurricane Maria almost exactly five years ago — a disaster that led to intense scrutiny of the federal government’s response under then-President Donald Trump.