With the summer conventions over and the run-up to the November elections in full swing, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are starting to articulate their positions on issues ranging from the economy to international trade. But when it comes to issues important to the maritime industry, voters are left to some guess work and reading between the lines.

Neither candidate has talked much about maritime affairs, but a look at their comments on broader economic, trade and environmental issues reveals how their policies could affect U.S. shipping, waterways and ports.

The Jones Act

Passed in 1920, this law requires that ships carrying cargo between U.S. ports be crewed by Americans and built in the United States. There have been fresh calls to repeal or reform the Act from critics who believe it increases the costs of shipping and hurts trade and consumers. Clinton has announced her support of the Jones Act, which is not surprising given that President Obama is an ally (and she served as his Secretary of State) and that she has been actively courting unions. In accepting the endorsement of the Seafarer’s International Union in January, she said that seafarers “have my commitment to support the Jones Act and to fight to ensure that its application is permitted under international trade agreements.” She also got behind the Maritime Security Program, which moves military cargo on U.S.-flag, U.S-crewed vessels, and cargo preference laws that support the U.S-flag commercial fleet.

Determining Trump’s position is more opaque. He hasn’t made direct comments on the Jones Act, but an assumption could be made that he favors it based on his “Make America Great Again” slogan and emphasis on keeping jobs in America.

Wind power

Shipyards and the workboat industry believe offshore wind development could mean new business. Clinton says she would expand wind energy areas offshore and accelerate and streamline permitting. She would also extend production tax credits for wind.

Trump’s position is less clear. On several occasions, he has said that “I’m fine with it - we’ve got to get away from the Middle East," adding that wind energy is “very, very expensive" and needs subsidies. He's also unsure whether he likes the looks of the turbines. "Windmills look nice, but they kill a lot of birds” including bald eagles.

In arguing against an offshore wind farm that is to be developed off the coast of Scotland, where he is building a $1.2 billion golf resort, he called turbines “ugly, noisy and dangerous,” and said wind power was “an obsolete technology that will destroy the magnificence and beauty of Scotland. All over the world they are being abandoned, but in Scotland they are being built.” When pressed to explain the bad aspects of wind turbines, he said: “I am the evidence, I am a world class expert on tourism.”

Oil and gas

As a mover of petroleum and petrochemicals on the waterways, the tug and barge industry is affected by policies affecting the oil industry. Citing the effects of climate change, Clinton wants to end oil subsidies and transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. She supported the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw plans for oil and gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast, adding that it’s “time to do the next right thing and protect the Arctic too.” Earlier in the campaign, Clinton was hassled repeatedly by Greenpeace and the rival Bernie Sanders campaign over ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Meanwhile, Trump is a skeptic of climate change and wants to cut regulation and encourage more drilling as a way to help the oil and gas industry. This might be hard to reconcile, however, since the U.S. is already extracting oil and gas at near record rates, which has created a glut, and natural gas production is at an all-time high. Trump has also pledged to approve the Keystone XL project to bring petroleum from Canada to oil refineries in the Gulf, which Obama blocked citing environmental concerns.


The coal industry has been declining for years. Reduced production has led to job cuts and less coal moving on U.S. waterways. Saying Obama has done “everything he can to kill the coal industry,” Trump wants to reverse the trend, promising to “save” Big Coal and bring mining jobs back, a move that many say runs counter to market forces. Trump also has said he would roll back Obama-era EPA regulations that curb emissions from coal-fired plants.

Clinton wants to focus on clean, renewable energy and spend $30 billion to transition miners to other jobs. This is tricky for both candidates. Clinton is facing a backlash in coal country as she promotes a Democratic agenda to act on climate change, which will include curbs on coal use.

Trump, a climate change skeptic, says he wants to revive the industry but also increase hydraulic fracking, which is the main reason why natural gas prices are so low and utilities have switched from coal to natural gas. In a contradictory move, Trump would have to find a way to raise natural gas prices to save coal.

International Trade

Many commodities shipped on the waterways are exported, so a president's views on international trade agreements are important. Claiming that trade deals “are killing us,” Trump would use executive power to undo many of them, calling the pacts “disgusting, the absolute worst ever negotiated by a country and the world.” He promises to slap huge tariffs on certain products made abroad, which he believes will deter offshore activities, bring jobs back jobs, and make the world respect America. But many worry that other countries will retaliate with tariffs on U.S. exports, making American goods more expensive and hurting exporters.

Clinton is more of a free-trader, but her positions have been inconsistent, changing with political circumstances. She championed a 12-country Pacific trade deal pushed by Obama when she was Secretary of State, but now is pulling back from it. The same is true of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), negotiated by her husband, which she now says is flawed. She did, however, support deals with Singapore, Chile, Australia and Morocco.

Waterways funding

This is one issue on which both candidates agree, each calling for big increases in federal funding to address the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Clinton seems to understand the connectivity between different transportation modes, stating recently that “Farmers in Iowa rely on the Mississippi River and its tributaries to use an extended network of river ports and locks to get their crops to market.” She promises to work to pass a $275 billion infrastructure initiative that would be paid for through business tax reforms during her first 100 days in office.

Trump pledges to “spend at least double” of what Clinton has proposed and finance it with debt. This puts him at odds with many in the Republican party who oppose new taxes and government spending and with economists who say increasing the federal debt could send deficits soaring. However, details on both proposals — especially plans for waterways funding — remain elusive so far.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.