Commentary: At 100, Jones Act still protects maritime economy

Named for a Washington state senator, the act keeps shipbuilding jobs here and protects U.S. waters.

By Rick Larsen / For The Herald

One hundred years ago this week, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Merchant Marine Act into law. Named for the primary sponsor, U.S. Sen. Wesley Jones from my home state of Washington, the Jones Act, as it is more commonly known, sustains and protects a strong domestic maritime and shipbuilding industry.

The Jones Act requires the use of American-owned and operated vessels to move all waterborne cargo between points in the United States. This key maritime standard ensures local vessel operators, marine terminals and shipyards can continue to contribute to the Pacific Northwest’s economy.

As I often say, transportation means jobs in Washington state. At its core, the Jones Act is a critical labor standard that helps put U.S. mariners to work and maintains important workplace rights. In Washington’s Second Congressional District, the district I represent, the Jones Act supports 2,240 jobs which generate more than $130 million in labor income and more than $642 million in economic impact annually.

The Jones Act also underpins U.S. maritime defense policy and is essential to preserving national security interests at home and abroad. A recent U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) study found Washington’s shipyards created more than $972 million in economic impact annually. Northwest Washington’s shipyards, including Dakota Creek Industries and Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in my district, play a key role in constructing and modernizing the Jones Act fleet. Jones Act crews and vessels play a critical role in securing the nation’s strategic interests. Furthermore, the Jones Act protects U.S. waters, infrastructure and resources from incursions by foreign vessel operators.

Known for its heroic and steadfast dedication in the face of natural disaster, war and other challenges, the Jones Act fleet’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Last week, I participated in a House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee hearing on the status of the U.S. maritime supply chain during the pandemic. During this discussion, representatives from the nation’s ports, waterway operators, mariners and the maritime industry agreed that preserving and protecting the Jones Act must be a national priority. As markets gradually reopen and trade recovers, the Jones Act will ensure domestic industries remain vibrant contributors to the global shipping economy.

A century after the enactment of the Jones Act, Washington state and the nation continue to benefit greatly. As a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am committed to working with my colleagues to uphold the Jones Act to safeguard the important role maritime industries play in the U.S. economy and national security.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-2nd District, is a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and serves on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.

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