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US Rep. Ed Case says White House is open to Jones Act exemption amid fuel import monopoly

Gasoline tanker trucks drive down a road near an oil refiner in El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 10, 2021.
Patrick T. Fallon
AFP via Getty Images
FILE - Gasoline tanker trucks drive down a road near an oil refiner in Texas.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case says it’s time for the Biden Administration to support an exemption for Hawaiʻi when it comes to the federal 1920 Jones Act.

That law requires any cargo, including fuel, transported between two U.S. ports to be carried on U.S.-built and U.S-flagged ships.

"That would be great if we had U.S.-built, U.S.-flagged ships, but we don't. We have about 98 ships in our ocean going Jones Act now. And as a result, we have a virtual monopoly on the sea lanes between the continent and Hawaiʻi, which accounts for 90 plus percent of everything we use here — lumber, food, milk, going on down the list, fertilizer, etc.," he said.

Case says he does not think the federal government should support a monopoly via the Jones Act, particularly for an island state thousands of miles away from the continent.

"If the rest of the country wants to keep the Jones Act, that's your business. You have buses, you have trains, you have trucks that you can move stuff around, so there's a little bit of competition, but not an island state out 2,500 miles, completely subject to ocean-borne transport," Case told HPR.

Hawaiʻi was getting around 25% of its fuel directly from Russia on international ships, Case says.

"However, we rightly cut off any imports from Russia. And that leaves a much smaller layer of options out there internationally. We have to go to places like Argentina and Libya for our oil at that point," he said. "And the obvious choice to make up for that 25% is the U.S. mainland where we're producing energy."

But importing from the continent means Hawaiʻi importers have to use U.S.-built, U.S.-made oil tankers.

"I've done the research on that. We have virtually no tankers available to transit oil from the U.S. continent to Hawaiʻi," Case said. "So I've asked the president, 'Hey, under this specific circumstance where we are at the mercy — actually, we just have no practical alternative — open up the Jones Act so that at least international tankers can bring oil from Long Beach (California) to Hawaiʻi if we need it.' The White House has not said no to that," Case said.

Case says the Biden Administration has indicated it would be open to that discussion about the Jones Act and Hawaiʻi if international oil supplies to the state are threatened.

In other news, Case says he understands his Capitol Hill colleague U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele's reasons for running for governor, rather than for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

He says it will be a “loss for the delegation” that represents Hawaiʻi in Washington, but adds that he would look forward to working with any of the announced Democratic candidates for the position.

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