Alaskans can't beat the Jones Act

Letter to the editor

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2005

I choose to believe that service in Juneau as his press secretary, deputy chief of staff and director of communications, and in Washington, D.C., as his press secretary and deputy director of public information at the Department of the Interior, affirms my respect for Gov. Walter Hickel. As a journalist and a director of television news operations, I also know that Sen. Rick Halford's reputation was deserved as a knowledgeable and strong-willed political manager.

However, both of these outstanding Alaskans seem to minimize a formidable obstacle to their proposed all-Alaska gas pipeline: the Jones Act.

Few federal constraints have been so politically bulletproof over time. The Jones Act prohibits use of foreign bottoms, including foreign-built LNG tankers, in trade between U.S. ports.

Price and the notion that we could change the Jones Act were factors in the Hickel administration decision in the 1960s to buy the foreign ship that was renamed the Wickersham. As I recall, the state paid about $7 million (in '60s dollars, remember) for the Wicky, about half of the lowest bid we could get from a U.S. shipyard to build a new ferry. Besides, Howard Pollock was confident we could amend the Jones Act.

Rep. Howard W. Pollock was Alaska's lone member of the 90th and 91st Congress. He assured the governor's office that he could help secure a permanent waiver of the Jones Act. Sen. Henry M. Jackson disagreed. The Washington state Democrat and chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs was a great friend of Alaska. But, Scoop Jackson warned that trying to secure support for a permanent Jones Act waiver from the U.S. maritime unions and ship-building industry was futile.

Scoop was right. Gov. William A. Egan later sold the Wicky. And as much as I'd welcome a nice cut in a home-heating bill that has doubled in a decade, diluting the Jones Act in today's fractious Congress would take as long (if ever) as persuading senators from New York and Washington state to sponsor a pro-ANWR energy bill.

I know, "negative attitude," but when the Jones Act is recognized, "Fool me once ..."

Joe Holbert


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