Maritime Law Experts Call GOP Claim That The Jones Act Is Slowing Oil Cleanup ‘Totally Not True’

A favorite talking point for conservatives since the beginning of BP’s ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is that the Jones Act — a law from 1920 that requires all goods carried between U.S. ports to be on U.S. built ships — is hindering the clean-up effort, and that the Obama administration won’t waive it because it’s pandering to labor unions. “It’s a little shocking to me that a president that has such a multinational orientation as this president didn’t immediately see the benefits of waiving the Jones Act and allowing all of these resources to come in,” said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

Even current GOP lawmakers have gotten in on the act, with Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), John Cornyn (R-TX) and George LeMieux (R-FL) introducing a bill to repeal the Jones Act entirely. “The Jones Act is currently preventing resources from being used in the monumental cleanup effort, and is hindering the ability of foreign vessels to assist Gulf communities,” Hutchison said. “In this time of crisis, we need to cut through the red tape and get all available assets on scene as quickly as possible.”

However, as McClatchy reported today, according to maritime law experts and independent researchers, these conservatives really don’t know what they’re talking about:

Maritime law experts, government officials and independent researchers say that the claim is false. The Jones Act isn’t an impediment at all, they say, and it hasn’t blocked anything. “Totally not true,” said Mark Ruge, counsel to the Maritime Cabotage Task Force, a coalition of U.S. shipbuilders, operators and labor unions. “It is simply an urban myth that the Jones Act is the problem.”

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is running the cleanup effort, said he’d received “no requests for Jones Act waivers” from foreign vessels or countries. And as Steve Benen noted, “there are currently 24 foreign vessels from nine foreign countries in the Gulf, helping with the response effort.”

Of course, none of these facts stopped Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) from releasing a report today claiming that “an apparent refusal to waive the union-backed Jones Act, will stifle economic recovery in the [Gulf] region for years to come.”

This argument over the Jones Act isn’t actually about the GOP making substantive criticisms of the Obama administration’s oil spill response, but dreaming up nonsense in order to attack labor unions. And that’s really nothing new, considering that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) blamed the entire spill on the fact that some government rig inspectors are unionized. However, it simply has no basis in reality.