The eastern United States is not showing much evidence of global warming this winter. Blizzards have slammed southern cities such as Atlanta, leaving motorists stranded on icy highways. That type of problem is not new in states such as New Jersey. They fight back with rock salt, which melts the ice and gets people moving. New Jersey’s salt stocks are way low but 40,000 tons of the stuff was sitting in Searsport, Maine. New Jersey wanted to buy the salt and ship it to Port Newark but that didn’t happen because as New Jersey transportation commissioner James S. Simpson told reporters “government, the federal government, gets in the way.”
The Jones Act, passed in 1920 during the administration of Woodrow Wilson, mandates that only ships with U.S. flags and crews can transport goods between American ports. So the salt New Jersey needed sat in Maine, and this was not the first time the Jones Act block emergency supplies.
After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the government granted only limited waivers to speed the movement of fuel and oil to areas battered by the storm. But gaining a waiver requires so many hurdles some officials never even applied. This year New Jersey officials did apply but bosses at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, with a budget of nearly $60 billion, said they could only grant a waiver if no U.S. vessels were available and if the waiver was in the interests of national defense.
No national security interest is apparent here and a U.S. barge was not readily available to ship the salt in a timely way. So Mr. Simpson is right. Government did get in the way of an emergency situation, based on a law nearly 100 years old. But there’s more to it. The federal government is bigger than ever, more costly than ever, resists reform more than ever, and elevates bureaucratic concerns over the safety of citizens.