Hawaii's leading newspaper supports Jones Act waiver
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser adds its voice to those urging special consideration for Hawaii during the current fuel crisis
From Grassroot Institute, March 18, 2022
Calls for a Jones Act waiver for fuel imports are growing louder nationwide, and now even Hawaii's leading daily newspaper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, has editorialized in favor of the concept.
That's important because it sends a loud message to Hawaii's congressional delegation that uniting behind U.S. Rep. Ed Case's request for such a waiver might be a good idea for Hawaii after all.
As the editorial explained, Hawaii has been "fairly dependent on foreign petroleum imports for many years," including up to one-third from Russia. It called that an "acute problem" that has worsened because, in response to the fighting between Russia and the Ukraine, Russian fuel imports to the U.S. have been banned.
Why not just replace those imports with U.S. oil? The Jones Act is why not. As the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has repeatedly pointed out, the 1920 protectionist law requires all goods shipped between U.S. ports to be on ships that are U.S. flagged and built, and mostly owned and crewed by Americans, which makes them too expensive to build and operate. Pure economics has pushed Hawaii into its heavy reliance on foreign oil imports.
In addition, there might not even be enough Jones Act tankers to bring in the needed fuel from the mainland. Under the act, America's oceangoing merchant fleet has dwindled to fewer than 100 vessels. About half of those are tankers, but only 11 are larger, purpose-built oil tankers. The rest could be used to transport oil, but they are more typically used to move refined products and not ideally suited for carrying oil due to their smaller sizes.
So the point of a Hawaii Jones Act waiver for fuel imports is to make it easier for the state's sole oil refinery to buy petroleum from U.S. sources, quickly and without having to pay an arm and a leg.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial stated:
"There’s some doubt that even a partial waiver from the Jones Act would lead to a reduction in prices at the pump, or for other large-scale users of oil, including Hawaiian Electric. But widening the lens through which we look for [alternate oil] sources would be wise at this pivotal moment."
By the way, the Washington Post endorsed the idea on March 9. Said the Post:
"Higher gas prices typically cause Americans to drive and consume less. Mr. Biden should call on U.S. producers to step up. Analysts say there’s a potential for 760,000 more domestic barrels by the end of the year. Congress should also start considering gas vouchers for low-income families and waiving, at least temporarily, the Jones Act to make it easier to ship oil from Texas to Hawaii and the coasts. Every bit helps."
Considering the documented harm the Jones Act does to Hawaii, it seems counterintuitive that Hawaii's three other congressional delegates — U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele — would oppose any tinkering with the law. Perhaps in this case, they might be willing to budge.