April 30, 2019 / 8:18 PM / 20 days ago

Trump to meet with Republican senators on U.S. shipping rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump is set to meet with Republican senators on Wednesday over a proposal to waive rules that only U.S.-flagged ships can move natural gas from American ports to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Northeast.

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes the Baylor University Lady Bears, the 2019 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball National Champions, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

The nearly 100-year-old Jones Act mandates the use of U.S.-flagged vessels to transport merchandise between U.S. coasts. Bloomberg News reported last week the administration was seriously considering waiving the requirements for some energy shipments and that Trump was leaning in favor of some kind of waiver.

“I am going to go to the White House tomorrow to try to talk to the president out of doing something foolish and that is trying to curtain the Jones Act protections,” Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, told Reuters on Tuesday. “If that is his inclination, then (Trump) has been receiving some bad advice.”

The White House declined to comment.

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security waived the requirement for one week to allow oil and gas operators to use often cheaper, tax-free, or more readily available foreign-flagged vessels to ensure enough fuel reached emergency responders during Hurricane Irma and following Hurricane Harvey.

A person briefed on the matter confirmed that administration officials were divided on the issue.

Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who chairs the Commerce Committee, and a number of other Republicans are set to attend the meeting that had not previously been made public, he said.

“There is massive support in the Congress for keeping the Jones Act as it is. We don’t need to tinker with it,” Wicker said on Tuesday, saying it had strong “across-the-board” bipartisan support.

At the White House meeting, Wicker said: “We’ll be talking policy and politics.” Any changes would not go over well in Congress “at all, in either party,” he said.

In February, leaders of the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure wrote DHS to oppose a request from Puerto Rico to waive the Jones Act for 10 years to allow foreign tankers to move liquid natural gas to the U.S. island territory. Puerto Rico is still recovering from devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the committee, and Sam Graves, the panel’s top Republican, said in the letter the Jones Act “has promoted economic growth and national security, and created hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs in our domestic maritime trades and shipbuilding industries.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney

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