Is an antiquated law hampering oil clean-up efforts? 

Incredibly, the Jones Act, an old protectionist law requiring “vessels working in US waters be built in the US and be crewed by US workers” has not been waived in the BP clean-up efforts. Some of the best, most cutting edge oil clean-up crews and technology belong to other countries and they are willing to help, but the Jones Act is apparently still being enforced:

Joseph Carafano of the Heritage Foundation has been studying the matter and wonders, “Are we accepting all the international assistance in the maritime domain that we can, and is the Jones Act an impediment to that?”

The Coast Guard and the Administration are quick to point out that some foreign technology is being used in the current cleanup effort. Including:

- Canada’s offer of 3,000 meters of containment boom

- Three sets of COSEQ sweeping arms from the Dutch

- Mexico’s offer of two skimmers and 4200 meters of boom

- Norway’s offer of 8 skimming systems

But that is largely technology transferred to US vessels. Some of the best clean up ships – owned by Belgian, Dutch and the Norwegian firms are NOT being used. Coast Guard Lt. Commander, Chris O’Neil, says that is because they do not meet “the operational requirements of the Unified Area Command.” One of those operational requirements is that vessels comply with the Jones Act.

“Yes, it does apply,” said ONeil,“ I have heard no discussions of waivers.”

The administration insists that so far the Jones Act has not been a problem, but Florida Senator Bill Nelson disagrees:

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is not so sure about that. He’s hearing from the folks back home in Florida, where they want all the skimmer ships they can get. He sent a letter to Admiral Thad Allen today which read in part:
“Admiral, I believe the orange mousse of oil that is now in Florida’s waters is more than enough evidence that we need to take advantage of every appropriate global resource. Please advise as to whether we are taking full advantage of the offers of assistance from other countries.”

When asked about this by Fox News, Admiral Allen said, “If it gets to the point where a Jones Act waiver is required, we’re willing to do that too Nobody has come to me with a request for a Jones Act waiver.”

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Mark Hemingway

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