The Biden administration moved Wednesday to allow a non-U.S. flagged ship to transport fuel to Puerto Rico, following pressure to waive a rule in the face of a diesel shortage after Hurricane Fiona.
The decision to make came in “response to urgent and immediate needs of the Puerto Rican people in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona … to ensure that the people of Puerto Rican have sufficient diesel to run generators needed for electricity and the functioning critical facilities,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Wednesday.
Mayorkas called the limited waiver for a BP vessel “temporary and targeted.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s choice to suspend the Jones Act — which typically allows only U.S.-flagged ships to transport maritime cargo between U.S. ports — will allow additional diesel into Puerto Rico, days after the territory was hit by Hurricane Fiona.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi thanked the Biden administration for the waiver in a tweet Wednesday.
He was among several legislators, activists and others who previously pressured the administration to waive the Jones Act.
The governor requested a waiver Monday for a private supplier waiting to unload fuel in Puerto Rico; a spokesman for BP confirmed the company submitted a waiver request for a vessel carrying diesel Sept. 20.
“We are grateful to the Biden administration for taking this action and will deliver the barrels into Puerto Rico as quickly and safely as possible,” a BP spokesman said Wednesday.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), who sent a letter this week requesting the waiver with seven other legislators, said she welcomed Mayorkas’ decision.
“This is a life and death situation,” Velázquez said in a tweet, adding: “I encourage the Administration to take further steps to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico can fully recover from Hurricane Fiona.”
The calls to waive the act following the hurricane came from both sides of the aisle: GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mike Lee (Utah) previously voiced their support for such a waiver.
Hurricane Fiona caused widespread flooding and large power outages when it battered Puerto Rico last week. At least two people died, according to authorities — one in Puerto Rico and one in the Dominican Republic.
The Department of Homeland Security has previously waived the Jones Act in other national disasters, including when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017.
Because Puerto Rico is an island, the Jones Act can cause the price of consumer goods to be higher than in other areas, since nearly everything needs to be imported, POLITICO previously reported.
Labor unions have been broadly supportive of the rule, as it protects American shipbuilding and maritime industries.
Shayna Greene and Gloria Gonzalez contributed to this report.
CORRECTION: The waiver granted Wednesday applies to one specific ship. A previous version of this article stated otherwise.