Jones Act: Does Gulf oil spill cleanup need more foreign boats?
The Jones Act prevents foreign skimmers and tankers from helping with the Gulf oil spill cleanup. But federal officials have streamlined waivers to make it easier for foreign ships to respond.
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What Mr. Obama hasn't done is announce that he's calling in maritime mercenaries – foreign skimmers or Saudi supertankers – to help deal with the Gulf oil spill cleanup.
Well flow-rate estimates are now up to as many 60,000 barrels a day (2.5 million gallons), with about 18,000 barrels a day being captured by BP. Congressmen along the coast are pleading for a better and more coherent response, and pressure is growing to waive the protectionist Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (known as the Jones Act, for its sponsor), which blocks foreign fleets from helping in the Gulf.
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Specifically, the Jones Act requires that any ships transporting goods from state to state be built in the US, crewed by Americans, and owned by Americans. On Monday, Sen. George LeMieux and Rep. Jeff Miller, both Florida Republicans, sent a letter to Obama requesting that he waive the act.
In response to such calls for more foreign help, the oil spill unified command on Tuesday streamlined the waiver process, adding that 15 foreign-flagged ships are already operating in the Gulf. More are on their way, according to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Nevertheless, some political scientists say that waiving the Jones Act could be a big symbolic step for Obama as he struggles to come to grips – not just with the spill, but with the other demands on his presidency.
In his Oval Office speech Tuesday, Obama laid out a relief scenario where thousands of ships and tens of thousands of relief workers are deployed and more National Guard troops are on the way. If the spill gets into the Gulf's loop current, it could round Florida's cape, join the Gulf Stream, and potentially head up parts of the Atlantic coast. Obama tried to prepare Americans for further setbacks Tuesday night, stating that oil will continue to hit beaches and marshes.