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Unions say more U.S.-flagged ships needed amid supply chain issues

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Posted on April 6, 2022

Unions call for expanding the Jones Act fleet to counter supply chain issues and an ocean shipping industry that is dominated by foreign players. Fuel economy standards for cars will approach 50 miles per gallon by 2026 after a new DOT rule was announced. House Transportation Committee Republicans to hold a GOP-only hearing bashing President Joe Biden and Democrats over energy issues.

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KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES ACT: The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department is urging the Biden administration to expand the U.S.-flagged domestic fleet and vessels covered by Jones Act protections with an eye toward alleviating ongoing supply chain issues.

“TTD urges Congress and the Administration to take the necessary steps to facilitate the construction and operation of Jones Act vessels as part of a new, expanded marine highway system along America’s coasts,” the group of labor unions said in a policy statement shared with POLITICO.

EXPAND U.S. OCEAN CARRIERS: The union coalition is also urging an expansion of U.S.-flagged vessels in the foreign shipping trades, in which the major container-ship players are all based abroad. Congress appears poised to impose new rules on container shipping for the first time in decades in response to record-high prices for shipping containers and to complaints from U.S. exporters that their cargo cannot get shipped in a timely fashion.

“Increasing the amount of America’s foreign trade carried aboard U.S.-flag ships will increase the number of American maritime jobs and strengthen America’s military and economic security,” the group wrote. It added that it rejects flag-of-convenience “open registries,” where a national ship registry is open to ships of all countries, in an attempt to skirt U.S. labor laws and Jones Act protections. There are some calls (notably from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers) to suspend the Jones Act amid supply chain issues, but there’s little support for the idea in either party in Congress.

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GAS SIPPING: The Transportation Department on Friday finalized a rule boosting fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks that aims to achieve an average of 49 miles per gallon for 2026 model-year vehicles, Alex Guillén reports. The new rule, which comes as the Biden administration seeks to ease the pain that U.S. drivers are experiencing from record-high prices at the pump, will require 8 percent improvements in model years 2024 and 2025, with a 10 percent improvement in 2026. That will culminate in “roughly” 49 miles per gallon in 2026, or 9.7 mpg over the baseline, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

FREEZING RUSSIA: Although the rule was in the works long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended global oil markets and caused gasoline prices to spike, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also touted the rule’s goal of lessening Americans’ dependence on oil by reducing demand for gasoline by 234 billion gallons through 2050.

“Even if all of the oil we use in the U.S.A. were made in the U.S.A., the price of it is still subject to powers and dynamics outside of the U.S.A, which means that until we achieve a form of energy independence that is based on clean energy created here at home, American citizens will still be vulnerable to wild price hikes like we’re seeing right now during Putin’s war,” he said during a Friday press conference.

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