By: Matthew Paxton, President, Shipbuilders Council of America
“America first.” This is the phrase we hear repeated by President Trump more than any other—the simple yet powerful promise that our government will “buy American and hire American.”
It is therefore as shocking as it is disheartening to learn that the Trump administration is considering a policy that would undermine the most quintessentially American industry: our nation’s shipbuilders.
The administration is contemplating ignoring U.S. law by allowing foreign ships to move liquefied natural gas (LNG) from U.S city to U.S. city along our coastlines, where the law – known as “the Jones Act” – explicitly requires movement of any cargo between U.S. cities to be transported on American built, owned, and crewed vessels.
Why would the administration do this? The simple answer is that special interests are prevailing over national interests, as deep-pocketed supporters in the oil and gas industry – those who epitomize the very “swamp” that he vowed to drain – are swaying the debate.
These special interests claim there are no ships in the world authorized to carry LNG from the U.S. to Puerto Rico. This is patently wrong. Legislation passed in 1996 allows for LNG carriers built anywhere before that year to transport American LNG to Puerto Rico by being brought under U.S. flag. There are more than 50 of these ships in service throughout the world today, and a number of them are not on long-term contracts. They are not serving in the Jones Act trade because there is not yet a firm market.
If the President goes through with waiving the Jones Act for 10 years for the purposes of transporting LNG along our nation’s coasts and to Puerto Rico, then his will be the administration that undermines this long-standing American law and does irreparable damage to the all-American industry it supports.
Waiving the Jones Act as planned will wipe out an emerging American LNG transportation market while signaling to all that the law will not be reliably enforced under this administration. This will have a devastating ripple effect that indubitably will serve to dry up U.S. investment in shipbuilding. Our situation will resemble that of Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom – all struggling to revive their once-robust shipbuilding industries.
As a result, the U.S. will soon be forced to outsource shipbuilding to China and Korea. This will mean the shuttering of American shipyards and the elimination of hundreds of thousands of American jobs. It also will mean an end to our ability to respond with a domestic shipbuilding capacity in times of major war.
China is already a world leader in global shipbuilding. The Chinese crave the opportunity to take over our small but vital commercial market, which they know will hasten the end of American shipbuilding. Then we will become dependent on ocean transportation from a nation the Pentagon recently labeled “certainly an adversary of the United States.”
In other words, after a century of the Jones Act making America strong, waiving it will make China even stronger while bolstering their ability to threaten our economic and national security.
Because the Jones Act was instituted as a national security measure, any waiver requires a national defense emergency to be declared by the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security. But no such thing is currently established in the administration’s justification. This would be a gross and blatant violation of the law.
Since before our Constitution was even written, the U.S. has been a maritime nation. To this day, shipyards across our country produce the vessels that underwrite our economic prosperity and provide livelihoods for more than 650,000 hardworking Americans. They not only make us prosperous but thanks to the fleets they produce for our military, they also help keep us safe.
The Jones Act is the kind of muscular, security-minded policy that President Trump himself would have proposed, as it protects our nation’s borders along with the brave men and women who serve our country in uniform. And it is no wonder that in 2017 the Assistant Secretary of the Navy testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee and declared, “Maintaining a strong shipbuilding industrial base is a key element of our national security.”
For all of these reasons, and on behalf of the safety and prosperity of the United States, we make this urgent plea to President Trump:
Mr. President, please do not agree to waive the Jones Act. Doing so will send hundreds of thousands of American jobs overseas.
If you waive the Jones Act, you will destroy a critical supply chain that could imperil the ability of our Navy and Coast Guard to execute their national security missions.
If you waive the Jones Act, you will destroy an industrial base that has been present in this country since the time of the founding fathers.
If you waive the Jones Act, you will devastate America’s maritime sector and tell those workers that they don’t matter.
If you waive the Jones Act, you will betray your own self-defined “America first” agenda.
Mr. President: Trust your instincts. Reject any proposed waiver to the Jones Act. Don’t surrender and let the swamp win. Don’t put America second.