Lawmakers ask White House to allow diesel ship to dock in Peñuelas
By The Star Staff
Speaker of the House of Representatives Rafael Hernández Montañez said Tuesday that he and other lawmakers asked White House officials to allow a foreign-flagged vessel carrying diesel fuel to deliver its cargo in the southern municipality of Peñuelas.
The ship had been unable to dock in Puerto Rico since Sunday because of the century-old Jones Act provision that prevents foreign-flagged vessels from transporting goods among U.S. ports.
Hernández Montañez, House Majority Leader Ángel Matos García and Rep. Eddie Charbonier Chinea stressed to Gretchen Sierra, director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House, the need for diesel fuel for hospitals, nursing homes and businesses in the southern and western parts of the island. Diesel fuel is used for the operation of power generators in hospitals and businesses. There is no current crisis in the amount of diesel fuel available in Puerto Rico, but there are problems with its distribution, a situation that has forced some businesses to limit operating hours or shut down.
“We managed to get the White House to prioritize this issue and to start efforts to release this shipment at the Peñuelas terminal to address the deficiency of the product on the island, so that it reaches the different areas that remain without electricity and rely on electric generators,” Hernández Montañez said.
The British Petroleum (BP) ship has been off the coast of Peñuelas since Sunday, awaiting the approval of the U.S. government to deliver its cargo.
“As we became aware of the situation and given the urgency to solve the problem of access to fuel immediately, we introduced House Resolution 832, in which we ask the Department of Homeland Security to issue a one-year waiver from the Jones Act to exempt Puerto Rico from federal cabotage regulations and thus facilitate access to key supplies to face an emergency,” the House speaker said.
Gov. Pedro Pierlusi Urrutia said via Twitter on Monday that he had asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to personally intervene to allow the vessel loaded with diesel to dock “for the benefit of our people.”
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement to NBC News on Monday that it “will continue to examine individual requests for Jones Act waivers on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the Maritime Administration, and Departments of Defense and Energy.”
Federal officials must examine whether granting the waiver could prevent a crisis in national security and it is a time-consuming process.
The 1920 Jones Act requires that goods shipped from one U.S. port to another be transported on a ship that is American-built, American-owned, and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
Puerto Rico does receive goods from foreign-flagged ships without waivers as long as they do not come from U.S. ports.
Ports Authority Executive Director Joel Pizá Batiz said on the radio Monday that the foreign-flagged ship had departed from Texas City, Texas with 300,000 barrels of diesel several days ago. British BP owns the diesel and its commercial partner is Peerless Oil and Chemicals in Puerto Rico.
The Ports chief said they should have sought the waiver in advance of coming to Puerto Rico.