Commentary: American energy independence should not depend on a foreign fleet

By Capt. John Rockwell

As a recently re-employed mariner, I am proud to be in a position to serve my nation and support our pathway to energy independence. Recent actions by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to ensure proper enforcement of the Jones Act, a law that requires all cargo moved between two point sin  the U.S. be transported on American vessels with American crews, will ensure that U.S. mariners like myself, not foreign workers, will be in charge of this critical work.

Energy independence and overall energy security is an important and worthy goal of our nation. This effort includes many players and various industries, all working to the same goal of making America more prosperous and secure.

I was recently hired to work aboard a multipurpose support vessel, or MPSV. These vessels are the workhorses of the offshore industry. Our vessel and its crane are capable of lifting 150 tons and placing it within inches of its intended location in almost 10,000 feet of water. It also has a flat back deck that allows it to transport the cargo we install on the sea floor.

Unfortunately, for the past few decades, an interpretation of federal law allowed foreign vessels to engage in the transportation our vessel engages in — in  direct contravention of the Jones Act. That kept vessels like mine from performing this work.

Our vessel is built in the U.S., my employer pays U.S. wages, and both of us pay U.S. taxes. The foreign boats can’t say any of this. They use low-wage mariners from around the world and don’t pay U.S. taxes (if they pay any tax at all). As such, their boats are cheaper than ours and therefore worked more than ours did.

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Fortunately, the Administration recently announced it was revoking the interpretations that let these foreign boats work in U.S. waters. Powerful interests groups, however, are opposing correct interpretations of the Jones Act. They want to keep using foreign vessels and foreign labor to operate in our waters.

In short, they want me to stay home while foreign mariners do my job.

They ever, powerful interests groups are opposing correct interpretations of the Jones Act. They want to keep using foreign vessels and foreign labor to operate in our waters.
In short, they want me to stay home while foreign mariners do my job.

Not surprisingly, I disagree. The Jones Act is a vital component to our nation’s economic, national, and homeland security and enjoys the support of the U.S. Navy, members of Congress from both parties, and every president in modern history for this very reason. Nearly a half- million jobs enrich the American economy as a direct result of the Jones Act, and it generates more than $100 billion in total economic output, $10 billion in taxes, and $29 billion in annual wages.
The foreign interests and their hired guns in Washington are trying to disguise their opposition, alleging proper enforcement of U.S. law will cost U.S. jobs. They have attempted to stall and delay this proper enforcement of U.S. law, citing numerous false claims and inaccuracies.

Those that live and work in this industry—like I do—understand the importance of reinvesting in our American mariners and vessels. Thanks to over $2 billion in recent investments by U.S. companies to build or retrofit the MPSVs affected by the Customs and Border Patrol notice, I have a  job. Moreover, U.S. companies now have more than the necessary capacity to fulfill all the work currently being conducted by foreign vessels and have American mariners lined up to meet the demand of future investments. Those that argue otherwise are ignoring this reality, my job, and its direct impact on America’s economic and energy security

What this notice will do is create over 3,200 new American jobs, increase wages, and earnings for workers in our region by over $155 million and generate over $700 million in regional economic output. Moreover, it will restore the rule of law and the intent of the Jones Act. This statute is grounded in a national defense policy of ensuring domestic shipbuilding and seafaring capacity while supporting a domestic maritime industry essential for U.S. economic security and job creation.

Without the correct application and interpretation of the Jones Act, I would not have my job, because foreign vessels operate with foreign crews. As a nation, we will not have true energy independence if we continue to rely on a foreign fleet and foreign workforce.

Capt. John Rockwood lives in Friendswood, Texas and has 30 years’ experience as a captain in the oil industry.  He now works for Hornbeck Offshore of Covington, La. 

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