Three Republican U.S. senators have introduced legislation that would temporarily allow foreign vessels to assist with the oil cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico.
The senators are Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), George LeMieux (R-Fla.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
The June 18th move comes in response to questions raised in Congress about whether the Jones Act, a maritime law dating back to the 1920s that permits only American ships and vessels to transport goods to and from U.S. ports, is impeding progress on the oil spill cleanup.
Some lawmakers have called for a waiver of the act, so foreign ships can aid in the cleanup.
“The bill will provide for a streamlined waiver process for any foreign vessel willing and able to help mitigate the impacts of the spill,” said LeMieux in a statement. “With only 20 skimmers off the coast of Florida, we need to expedite additional assistance.”
The legislation would waive the Jones Act only for vessels whose sole intent is to assist in the cleanup of the BP oil spill.
But Carole Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change, says that foreign vessels are already in the Gulf, providing skimmers and other assistance.
In a video posted on the White House blog, she says, “If it’s necessary to waive the Jones Act then that will be taken care of. At this point, it hasn’t been necessary.”
The Jones Act has been waived before, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago, when offshore oilfield damage and port disruptions created capacity issues for cargo movement that were alleviated by permitting foreign vessels to participate in transport activities normally reserved by the law for U.S. shipping.