Opinion: Puerto Rico and the Jones Act

D.R. Stiff/Correspondent

Recently, devastating storms have soaked our soil through the early hurricane season as rain and wind blew through the Lone Star and Sunshine State, and the Caribbean Greater Antillies, et al. The fiercest of recorded winds buffeted man and man-made structures. Thankfully, man fared far better than many shelters and surroundings.

Storm-related winds have now crossed the Grand Canyon State of Arizona, evoking a response from Republican Senator John McCain, a proposal to abolish the Jones Act, a years-old set of special interest protections for domestic shippers, an act much favored by powerful private transportation industry interests in the US.

The Trump Administration and Congress have allowed temporary suspension of the law in the immediate aftermath of the storms as necessary/beneficial in all storm-affected areas to allow a more expeditious flow of relief aid (in the form of medical supplies, durable goods, immediately exhausted food and water, and construction materials) into the communities of need. But that is not enough for Senator McCain, and that is not at all surprising with his history of identifying and correcting problems.

My first interaction with the Aviation Community was in the early 1990s. My first Federal Aviation Working Group was in Arizona a few years later, an effort spearheaded by Senator McCain to prevent the early demise of Rural Commercial Air Travel.

The student body at this prestigious Aeronautical University appreciates the connection between their position today and how their predecessors solved the aviation challenges of their time.

In the case of Rural Aviation, the Wright Amendment, the Jones Act; protectionist rules are constructed to effectively unbalance the power of competitive forces and to ensure (to the extent anything can be ensured) the imbalance persists. As was the case with Rural Air Travel, and the Wright Amendment in Texas, these protections can outlast their welcome among federal regulators in Washington DC, or within the industries over whom they hold sway.

Beyond the barking and bravado on all sides of repealing and abolishing the Jones Act, the simplest explanation or interpretation is probably that an evolution of sorts has been underway for Senator McCain and others who now believe that those who were protected by the Jones Act would now be better served by other means.

The debate on whether to reverse-over or double-down on the Jones Act will ensue and inform us. Either Senator McCain will rally his fellow lawmakers on Capitol Hill, or his bill will languish in the vaunted vault of what could have been. He will essentially have to convince his colleagues that abolishing the Jones Act is crucial to ensuring the most cost-effective post-storm
reconstruction efforts, especially in a Puerto Rico now much more dazed than enchanted.

And, Senator McCain will need to succeed soon. Irma and Maria will certainly move out of the mainstream public dialogue, and into the back of our collective mind.