The United States is currently enjoying an energy production boom. In 2017, for the first time since 1957, the U.S. became a net exporter of natural gas. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is set to become the world’s third largest liquefied natural gas exporter next year.

Unfortunately, not all Americans are benefitting from this energy revolution. Many residents of Boston, Massachusetts still rely on natural gas from Europe to supply the heat and electricity they need in the winter months. Our American citizens in Puerto Rico are also forced to buy all of their natural gas from Trinidad and Tobago, despite higher prices.

Why are Americans being forced to buy more expensive natural gas from foreign countries despite cheaper prices from American produced sources?

The answer goes all the way back to 1920 when Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act (more commonly known as the Jones Act). This law requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports must be carried by a ship that is constructed in the U.S., registered in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed primarily by U.S. citizens.

The purpose of the Jones Act was to encourage the construction of a merchant marine fleet that could help the U.S. Navy in time of war or national emergency. But the law’s strict requirements have become far too burdensome for modern shipping fleets. Today, just 180 ships meet Jones Act requirements, down from 737 in 1985.

Without Jones Act compliant ships to transport American goods between American ports, many Americans have been forced to turn to more expensive foreign goods to meet their needs. Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico have been hardest hit.

This is unacceptable. The federal government should not prevent American consumers from buying American products.

That is why I have introduced the “Protecting Access to American Products Act.” This bill creates an expedited process for American citizens to obtain a waiver from the Jones Act. If an applicant claims they failed to find a Jones Act compliant vessel for a specific product, the federal government must approve or deny that waiver within 60 days.
Americans can disagree about what, if any, trade barriers we should have with foreign nations. But I would hope we should all agree that Americans should be free to trade with each other. Protecting Access to American Products Act would better ensure that happens.