William R. Barr: Jones Act secures American commerce, vital for WV and nation

A few delegates in the West Virginia House of Delegates recently sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 9, which urges the U.S. Congress to repeal the Jones Act. Such a repeal threatens 3,300 West Virginia jobs created by the Jones Act, the businesses that rely on transportation on our rivers and waterways and the security of our nation.

The Jones Act provides economic, homeland and national security by requiring that vessels moving maritime cargo between U.S. locations are built by American shipyards, owned by American companies and crewed by American mariners. That commonsense policy ensures our maritime jobs are not outsourced to foreign countries.

If those delegates succeed in bringing about a repeal of the Jones Act, families and communities will bear the brunt of the negative economic consequences. Right here in Kanawha County, Amherst Madison has a long history of operating Jones Act towboats and barges. Today we employ 357 men and women from the region, including 258 West Virginians, and each of those jobs is a Jones Act job.

Jones Act companies like Amherst Madison are also key to the success of other industries critical to West Virginia’s economy. Construction of the Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex — the $6-10 billion “cracker” plant — relies on Jones Act barges to move industrial components from the Gulf Coast up through the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

That plant promises significant benefits to West Virginia’s natural gas industry and a potential rebirth of the state’s polymer industry. Similarly, in Mason County, Domestic Synthetic Fuels is investing $1.2 billion to construct a coal-to-liquids plant that will use natural gas and West Virginia coal to produce a half a million gallons of fuel a day. That coal will be transported on Jones Act barges, supporting additional jobs beyond the 260 the project anticipates creating.

A weakening or repeal of the Jones Act would outsource the domestic maritime transportation required for projects like those to foreign companies. The current trade dispute with China has put a hold on the $84 billion investment in West Virginia promised in 2017. If a foreign country’s state-owned companies controlled transportation on our rivers and waterways, how many future development opportunities could be lost if our ability to transport goods by water could be halted every time our country and that foreign country disagreed?

With West Virginia jobs and economic potential at stake, it is unimaginable why these GOP delegates would sponsor a resolution to irreparably damage America’s maritime industry.

Equally dangerous are the negative consequences to America’s homeland and national security if the Jones Act were weakened or repealed. Jones Act mariners are a force-multiplier for the U.S. Coast Guard by being the eyes and ears on the nation’s 95,000 miles of shoreline and 25,000 miles of inland waterways. If our 40,000-vessel strong Jones Act fleet were replaced by foreign vessels and crews, state and federal governments would have to make significant financial investments to secure and monitor every port and shoreline.

China is actively implementing its “Belt and Road Initiative” to control global transportation networks that import resources into China and export its products to the world. At a time when the U.S. is considering bans on the use of Chinese drones, trains and other technology, we should not unilaterally dismantle our domestic transportation network to have it replaced by companies under the influence or control of foreign governments that could use them to achieve their own strategic national objectives.

America’s ability to project and deploy military force and humanitarian assistance globally also depends on the sealift capacity of Jones Act vessels and mariners. Close to home, Jones Act vessels transport military cargo between installations and support military vessels. The U.S. shipyards and manufacturing supply chains kept in business by the Jones Act fleet are also part of the vital industrial base used to construct and repair military ships. Without the Jones Act, those critical components of national security are ceded to foreign companies.

For the prosperity of our state and country, West Virginia’s legislators should send a clear message supporting the Jones Act’s benefits to West Virginia families, our economy, and the nation by adamantly opposing House Concurrent Resolution 9.

William R. Barr is vice president of Safety and Compliance at Amherst Madison Inc. in Charleston.

Funerals for Sunday, February 16, 2020

Atkins, Linda - 3 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Call, James - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Hankins, Sara - 1 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, West Hamlin.

Hensley, Joshua - 2 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Jackson, Jeffrey - 6 p.m., Lantz Funeral Home, Buckeye.

Jobe, Joe - 2:30 p.m., Sunset Memorial Park Mausoleum Chapel, South Charleston.

Johnson, Freda - 2 p.m., Kanawha Valley Memorial Gardens, Glasgow.

Ratcliff, James - 3 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.