Friday, March 11, 2005

The Jones Act and Coastal Trade

In espousing a water-highway for more effective and efficient commerce, the ProJo editorial board touched on the 1920 Jones Act, which mandated that all coastal trade be conducted by ships built in the U.S. and registered, or "flagged," there, too. They rightly point out that most commercial ship-building left our country a long time ago, but fail to mention that there are still several shipyards that build navy ships or subs, such as in Groton or Bath, Maine. Nonetheless, there simply aren't enough qualified ships to engage in coastwise trips, so we are left to rely on the tug/barge method. As a former mariner, I am quite familiar with the debate. Usually what then happens is that it is proposed that the Jones Act be repealed to allow foreign ships into the waters. The regulatory gap between the U.S. and countries who offer "flags of convenience" such as Liberia or Panama is often used as the hammer to squelch such a proposal, usually with environmental concerns in the vanguard of opposition.

The fact of the matter is that it doesn't take the repeal of the Jones Act to increase this trade as I believe that increased barge traffic would be sufficient. The problem would be the hysterical reaction that environmental groups would undoubtedly have. Witness the cries of "too much Bay traffic" with the proposal for an LNG terminal in Providence. No, the problem isn't the Jones Act, its the inevitable NIMB's (Not In My Bay) who surface whenever any mention is made of using Narragansett Bay commercially. Thus, Rhode Island is prevented from fully capitalizing on the asset from which it derives its nickname of the Ocean State.

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