The Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil leak created a new opportunity for another assault on the Jones Act.

This time, many say, it appears to be political, offering a chance to criticize the administration over its spill response effort.

The latest reasoning behind the call to waive or repeal the act is a shortage of vessels to respond to the oil spill in the Gulf. Waiving or repealing the act, Jones Act opponents say, will allow foreign spill-response vessels to participate in the cleanup. Jones Act supporters, however, point out that the law applies only within the U.S. three-mile limit and that foreign vessels already are helping in the response effort farther offshore.

The act, which was waived briefly after Hurricane Katrina, has not inhibited the response, said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander in charge of the response for the Deepwater Horizon spill. As of early July, the U.S. had received 107 offers of foreign help, including 44 from other countries. Nine were accepted, and 24 were being processed by the State Department, he said.

“This is the most frontal assault on the Jones Act we’ve seen in a long time,” said Jennifer Carpenter, senior vice president, national advocacy, for the American Waterways Operators .

In Congress, Texas senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, and Florida Sen. George LeMieux, all Republicans, introduced legislation to temporarily waive the act to allow foreign vessels “with crucial equipment to travel between U.S. ports to provide needed assistance.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants to repeal the law, which he said “hinders free trade and favors labor unions over consumers.” Labor unions and Jones Act carriers say that the McCain bill would put more Americans out of work.

– D.K. DuPont

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