Support the pro-American Jones Act
By Richard Balzano
The pandemic has enabled us all to better understand the complexity of the global supply chain, its fragility due to years of federal underinvestment in critical maritime infrastructure (such as our ports or the hardworking men and women who ensure ships safely reach our shores), the shipbuilding industry that builds and repairs the equipment we need, and the port workers who unload them and send cargoes across America, delivering critical medical supplies and keeping store shelves stocked.
Despite the threat of COVID-19 and holding jobs where telework isn’t an option, these unsung American mariners, shipbuilders and port workers labored tirelessly — some might call it a yeoman’s effort — to ensure our economy could keep moving and thriving.
Even after all that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us about keeping critical infrastructure and manufacturing for our nation to survive on our own shores, we now have another great example of how important that is to our national security and economy.
The recent lesson the Russian invasion of Ukraine is teaching us about energy independence. We must as a nation be able to supply our own energy and transport it around the nations when and where it is needed.
Sadly, a small group in Congress still doesn’t understand that actions to remove the Jones Act and offshore our maritime industry will only put American maritime industry workers out of a job. They’re crassly using the crisis of COVID-19 and the spike in energy prices to advance bad policy: the undermining of the Jones Act, a tentpole policy that supports U.S. economic and national security.
The Jones Act, which is a series of maritime policies, embraced by the U.S. for decades protects our critical maritime infrastructure and workforce to ensure the movement of energy, agriculture and other critical commodities travel between U.S. ports on ships by mandating they are American-made, American-owned and crewed by American mariners. These American mariners also support U.S. national security by volunteering to crew sealift vessels — the ships that help supply and sustain our troops during overseas deployment.
All this work is too important to put in the hands of non-U.S. companies — many of which are controlled by countries that do not share our interests or values. Yet that’s exactly what opponents of the Jones Act — primarily think tanks funded by special interests seeking to access U.S. markets and jobs — aim to do.
These paid mouthpieces would make us believe that the foreign companies, which are not subject to U.S. laws and therefore do not pay U.S. taxes, or comply with environmental or labor laws, will pass along the pennies in savings to each of us rather than line their own pockets.
The tradeoff would be undermining the 650,000 men and women in the American Maritime industry and outsourcing their jobs, and the ability for the United States to build ships in times of peace and war. These think tanks are inviting an economic and national security disaster that would have lasting impact on this country.
Congress should rebuff the idea that foreign companies should take control of our ability to ship the critical energy and agriculture cargoes, keep our waterways open, and build the equipment we need to do all this, which keeps our national economy moving. They should say a resounding “nay!” to the idea that the very ships and mariners we need to deploy overseas and defend America should be under foreign control.
There’s a better idea: Stand up for American jobs, American-made products and America’s security. Congress should continue to defend and strengthen the Jones Act and demand the anti-American provisions be removed from any legislation being considered in response to the war in Ukraine.
Richard Balzano is the CEO and executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America with over 30 years of experience in the maritime and U.S government sectors. He most recently served as the presidentially appointed deputy maritime administrator in the Trump administration.