By Jennifer Carpenter.
In June, we celebrate the anniversary of enactment of the Jones Act, the federal law requiring that vessels moving cargo between U.S. ports be American-owned, American-built, American-crewed. As the foundational law of American maritime, the Jones Act is critical to a strong, thriving domestic maritime industry in Texas and nationwide, making it a vital component of Texas’s prosperity and our nation’s security.
Texas is one of the most important maritime states in America, home to hundreds of miles of coastline and navigable rivers and over 56,000 domestic maritime industry jobs, the third highest number in the nation. American maritime, which contributes over $14 billion annually to Texas’s economy, is integral to the strength of the Lone Star state. The tugboat, towboat and barge industry – the largest segment of American maritime – is a dynamic presence in Texas and across America, moving nearly 700 million tons of cargo annually nationwide and consisting of companies of all sizes and operational sectors, including multi-generation family-owned businesses. These companies provide family-wage careers and opportunities for upward mobility to mariners from all walks of life, including recent high school graduates and military veterans.
The men and women navigating Texas waterways onboard Jones Act vessels are indispensable parts of the marine transportation system that moves Texas energy safely, efficiently and sustainably. Nearly 50 million tons of petroleum products and more than 11 million tons of crude petroleum are moved on Texas waterways every year, and as the state expands its liquefied natural gas sector, the tugboat, towboat and barge industry stands ready with harbor tugs to provide ship assist and state-of-the-art bunker barges to support this growing market. Texas is an energy leader because of marine transportation, but without the Jones Act to ensure a robust American maritime industry, Americans would have to rely on foreign vessel owners and crews to transport these critical fuels, putting our energy security at risk.
The Jones Act also ensures that American mariners working aboard American vessels will help build our nation’s emerging offshore wind industry, which is poised for exponential growth in the years ahead. This means tremendous opportunity for Texans, as Texas maritime companies are already becoming a major force in helping harness this important new energy resource:
- Houston-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, the nation’s largest provider of dredging services, will build and operate the first U.S.-flagged inclined fallpipe vessel for subsea rock installation, supporting the development of the Empire I and II wind farms offshore New York;
- Kirby Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of Kirby Corp., has entered into a 20-year agreement with Maersk to provide barge transportation services for offshore wind towers and turbines to build out Empire Offshore Wind; and
- Shipbuilder Keppel AmFELS is building the first U.S.-flag wind turbine installation vessel at its shipyard in Brownsville for Dominion Energy.
Whether moving liquid fuel safely on the waterways, or helping lay the foundation – sometimes literally – for offshore wind’s emergence nationally, Texas maritime is at the forefront of America’s energy landscape. And it is the Jones Act that undergirds these investments and the jobs they generate, and ensures they are not outsourced to foreign interests.
The Jones Act is not only critical to the development and flow of energy in Texas and across the United States, but to the integrity of the entire American supply chain. As other modes of freight transportation and the international maritime industry struggled to keep cargo moving during the supply chain crises of the past two years, domestic maritime has continued to safely and efficiently deliver the commodities that build our infrastructure, drive our economy and sustain our way of life. When cargo containers languished at port, tugboats stood ready around the clock to move ships into and out of port at a moment’s notice. When the trucking industry had to grapple with finding enough drivers to meet demand, towboats pushed barges heavy with Texas products through the day and night.
How much worse could our energy and supply chain challenges have been during the past two years – and how much worse would things be today – if America’s domestic maritime commerce was in any way dependent on foreign vessels and crews? Thanks to the Jones Act, we didn’t have to find out. In fact, the American maritime industry has been one of the few stabilizing forces throughout these crises.
Our national and homeland security also depend on a strong domestic maritime industry safeguarded by the Jones Act. Tugboat, towboat and barge companies in Texas and across the country play a critical role in our nation’s military readiness by transporting vital cargo for our military along our coasts and on our inland waterways and by providing ship-assist services to aircraft carriers, hospital ships and other military vessels entering and leaving our nation’s ports. Domestic maritime provides the nation with a capable, reliable pool of well-trained American mariners to support sealift operations for our armed forces during war or national emergency, and shipyards in Texas and across America build the vessels that the Navy and Coast Guard require to defend our national interests.
The Jones Act not only ensures the continued vitality and reliability of this entire key industrial base, but also provides crucial aid to the Coast Guard in executing its homeland security mission. Without this law, the Coast Guard’s mission would be made vastly more complicated by having to track and vet foreign vessels and crews on our domestic waterways, along which much of our nation’s critical infrastructure is located. Meanwhile, American mariners act as a reliable source of situational awareness for the Coast Guard by serving as eyes and ears on the water.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is just the latest, brutal reminder that we live in a turbulent world with constant potential for disruption and uncertainty, where countries or non-state actors can act in unpredictable or adversarial ways that threaten our national interests – whether the physical security of the U.S. or our allies, or the financial or energy markets on which we all depend – and where natural disasters can strike at any time, from severe weather events to global pandemics.
In this environment of constant potential for disruption, Texas and the entire country need a domestic maritime industry that we can count on without question. The Jones Act provides the legal foundation for that certainty.
Jennifer Carpenter is the Vice President of the American Maritime Partnership and President & CEO of the American Waterways Operators.