US trade law keeps road salt from New Jersey

Anyone have a spare American-owned cargo ship that can carry 40,000 tons of salt? That's the only transportation the state is allowed to use.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 21, 2014 3:27PM
Image: Cars on icy road (© Don Hammond/Design Pics/age fotostock)By Matthew Philips, Businessweek

After an epic winter, New Jersey is pretty much out of road salt. 

Through Feb. 11, the Garden State has spread 372,000 tons of salt this year, 44 percent more than during all of last year. Even though it's a balmy 40 degrees this week, politicians live in fear of being unprepared for a snowstorm. So they're desperate to replenish depleted road salt stocks.

Finding more salt was hard enough, but New Jersey managed to secure 40,000 tons from Maine. Then New Jersey's transportation officials realized they had no way of shipping it in, because of a 90-year-old maritime law. 

The Jones Act requires that any cargo shipped between two U.S. ports has to be carried by a U.S. flagged ship -- one that's American-owned, American-built, and crewed by American citizens. This tends to limit the options.

New Jersey officials have applied for a federal waiver, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it will grant a waiver only if "federal transportation officials confirmed that no vessels with United States flags were available to move the cargo," according to a report in The New York Times. Oh, and it would also have to be in the best interest of national defense.

So while government officials scour U.S. ports for a boat big enough to carry 40,000 tons of salt, and presumably someone somewhere tries to decide whether icy conditions on the Garden State Parkway constitute a threat to national security, New Jersey is left with little choice but to do this: spread a briny liquid mixed with sand on its roads. 

That's right, New Jersey has resorted to covering its roads in pickle juice. (I'm not sure which is weirder, that or spreading cheese brine on the roads, as they do in Wisconsin.)

Jones Act waivers have been granted in the past after Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina to move fuel to the stricken coasts. There was also one granted following the BP (BP) oil spill in 2010 so foreign ships could help in the cleanup. The law itself has also caused nonemergency headaches for the oil and gas industry. The U.S. has increased its daily oil production by 2.5 million barrels over the past three years, but still, just 32 tankers and 42 barges are eligible under the Jones Act to haul fuel along the U.S. Gulf Coast and East Coast, according to MJLF & Associates, a shipping brokerage in Connecticut.

Strange as it sounds, the Jones Act is fiercely protected by the shipping industry. Its proponents argue that allowing foreign ships to engage in trade between U.S. ports would be a serious security threat, never mind that thousands of foreign ships already visit U.S. ports everyday

A handful of members of Congress have tried repealing it or carving out permanent exemptions for such places as Hawaii, where life is much more complicated and expensive under the current system. U.S. Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., a national security hawk, has been a constant critic of the law.

More from Businessweek

Tags: BP
Feb 21, 2014 4:42PM
Umm, they could ship by rail, New Jersey does have railroads don't they?
Feb 21, 2014 4:29PM
Feb 21, 2014 4:26PM

If New Jersey needs road salt call Pennsylvania.  PennDOT has plenty and sure isn't using it !!!

Feb 21, 2014 4:50PM
Fine, ship it to Canadian port first, don't even take it off the ship, then ship it from Canada to NJ.  Then it isn't shipping from a US port to a US port.  It's from a Canadian port to a US port.  Problem solved.
Feb 21, 2014 4:31PM
372,000 tons of salt...a body-shop/rust repair mans wet dream...
Feb 21, 2014 5:16PM
Maybe the trucks are stuck in bridge traffic
Feb 21, 2014 5:10PM
Annnnnnd this article is outdated. The shipment arrived yesterday.
Feb 21, 2014 5:24PM
If you really think it through, from many angles, it is a very wise law.  The maritime navy IS crucial to national defense.  Making it easy for cut-rate foreign shippers to put them out of business would be perilous. NJ just has to be willing to pay for U.S. labor. 
Feb 21, 2014 4:26PM
God bless our government.  Protect us against the outside world at all costs.  I am sure survivors of people killed in crashes on slick roads in the coldest parts of America are very happy to know we don't have foreign ships moving salt from Portland to Bayonne. 
Feb 21, 2014 5:09PM

It's about time that something was done to ensure that more US cargoes will be carried In US ships, planes, and trucks.

[the 'thumbs u,' vs. 'thumbs down' ratio seems to indicate that one out of three responders are foreigners].

Feb 21, 2014 6:21PM
No salt in Jersey? Two words: Christie's pretzels
Feb 21, 2014 4:38PM
Feb 21, 2014 5:24PM
Ahhhummm they have how many miles of coast line?? Use the damned sand from the ocean that has salt in it already so you have grip with the sand and salt to melt the ice,,, duhhh,,, Oh wait we cant do that ,,, taking the sand and salt which will wash back into the ocean,,,, might disrupt the hairy cheated nut scratcher in his natural living area,,, 
Feb 21, 2014 5:32PM
Take it by truck and use the GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE!!
Feb 21, 2014 5:37PM
In time of war such as WWII private cargo ships were placed in government service. Without a huge fleet of commercial carriers we never would have had a fleet capable of our British supply and military build-up. Though we'd be less likely to need as many today it's better to ensure we have a thriving American maritime fleet. As others suggest there are alternatives such as rail if they can't find a U.S. flagged ship.
Feb 21, 2014 5:51PM
Gosh darnit Mr. Christie, who didn't back you this time?
Feb 21, 2014 5:05PM
Maybe the bridge is down to one lane again !  Lets hear your imitation of Sgt Schultz again Christie.. "I know naaathing..naathing" !!
Feb 21, 2014 5:50PM
Last time I checked there was at least one rail line between Maine and New Jersey.
Feb 21, 2014 5:47PM
Feb 21, 2014 7:02PM
The real reason they can't get salt? The bridge is closed.
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