Jones Act Waiver Granted for Puerto Rico

A request to temporarily waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico that was denied on Monday has been approved. President Donald Trump waived shipping restrictions on Thursday to help speed up fuel and supply deliveries to Puerto Rico, devastated by Hurricane Maria, the White House said.
Maria wiped out power on the island and destroyed infrastructure and cell towers, leading to massive shortages. Even though a waiver had been granted to Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Department of Homeland Security initially said there was no need to waive the restriction for Puerto Rico, as it would not address the issue of the island’s damaged ports.

The Jones Act, or the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, was initiated almost 100 years ago to keep foreign-flagged vessels from shipping fuel and goods between U.S. ports. The last previous waiver was in December 2012 to allow petroleum products to be delivered for relief assistance after Hurricane Sandy.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disagreed with the initial decision to deny suspension of the act for Puerto Rico. He wrote to the Department of Homeland Security urging it to allow a waiver and ultimately “a full repeal of this archaic and burdensome act.” Without the waiver, McCain said residents of Puerto Rico would end up paying at least twice as much for food, drinking water and other supplies.

Supporters of the Jones Act, including ship builders, have maintained that it supports American jobs, including jobs in Puerto Rico and keeps shipping routes reliable, according to Reuters. They also contend that the issue in Puerto Rico is distributing shipments across the island once they are delivered.

The temporary waiver was not a surprise, as Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said on Wednesday that he expected the federal government to suspend the Jones Act. He said he had been speaking with members of Congress from both parties who supported an emergency waiver.

Flood, Wind Dominant Natural Hazards in 2016

While most natural hazards occurring in the United States last year saw average or below average activity, the exceptions were flood and wind, according to the CoreLogic report Natural Hazard Risk Summary and Analysis, released today.

Severe flood events driven by substantial rainfall were the dominant natural hazards, with Louisiana and North Carolina floods being the major loss contributors. As in 2015, hurricanes and tropical storms in 2016 continued to cause inland flooding through increased and intense rainfall—even when not making landfall, according to the report.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said there were 12 individual weather and climate disaster events in the U.S. with losses exceeding $1 billion in 2016.

According to the report:

  • Based on NOAA and CoreLogic analysis, the overall flood loss in 2016, driven by six, 1,000-year plus rain events, was approximately $17 billion, which is six times greater than the overall flood damage experienced in 2015.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recorded 943 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater in 2016, with more than 60 percent of these earthquakes located in Oklahoma.
  • The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported a total of 5,415,121 acres burned from 62,864 separate fires in 2016. While the total acres burned in 2016 fell below the 10-year average, significant losses occurred, with thousands of homes in California and Tennessee destroyed by several smaller fires that burned in populated areas.
  • Wind activity in 2016 was slightly above average, due in large part to strong winds brought by Hurricane Matthew.
  • Hail activity in 2016 was near the average, and Texas experienced the worst of this natural hazard.
  • Tornado activity in 2016 was near average compared with previous years.
  • Hurricane Matthew developed late in the year and grew to a Category 5 storm, resulting in substantial damage along the southeastern seaboard.
  • There were below-average levels of tropical cyclone activity in the western North Pacific Basin encompassing East and Southeast Asia in 2016.

However, 2016 became known as the year without a winter. Nine winter storms impacted the U.S. in 2016, the most notable being the late-January winter storm in New York.

“History has continually shown us that it is impossible to determine exactly when or where the next wildfire, flood or earthquake will strike, which is why preparedness, response and post-loss assessment are paramount,” CoreLogic said.

2015 Extreme Weather Events in Review

From hurricanes to hail to droughts to tornadoes, 2015 was a busy year for extreme weather events. Drought in California continued to worsen, increasing the risk of wildfires. While record rainfall in Texas and Oklahoma alleviated drought, it caused severe flash flooding in Texas. There have been 25 Category 4-5 northern hemisphere tropical cyclones—the most on record to date, breaking the old record of 18 set in 1997 and 2004.

The Insurance Information Institute reported that insured losses from natural disasters in the United States in just the first half of 2015 totaled $12.6 billion—well above the $11.2 billion average in the first halves of 2000 to 2014.

Interstate Restoration provides a look at 2015 weather events:

storms_2015_infographic2

Climate Change’s Impact on Cities and Businesses

Growing populations around the globe have created larger cities, as well as greater concentrations of risk. It is projected that a rise in sea levels and increased intensity of events will amplify the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, floods and droughts. Because of this, climate change is seen as one of the biggest threats to cities and businesses and could account for an estimated 20% of the global GDP by the end of this century, according to “Business Unusual: Why the climate is changing the rules for our cities and SMEs” by AXA.

While some cities have worked to put resilience plans in place to reduce the impact of flooding and other disasters, there is much to be done and businesses are vulnerable, especially small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Only 26% of SMEs have taken action to protect themselves, yet 54% are worried about the impact climate change could have on their business, and the number rises to 75% in emerging markets, the study found.

AXA-SME impact

“These disasters would be magnified by the fact that populations and assets have never been so concentrated in disaster-prone areas,” Henri de Castries, chairman and CEO of AXA Group said in the report. “Half of the world’s population now resides in cities, often along coastlines, and this proportion is due to rise to nearly two-thirds by the middle of the century, representing some 6.4 billion people. It comes as little surprise, then, that 80% of the climate change adaptation costs for 2010-2050 would be borne by urban areas.”

According to the report, these are common elements of resilience planning:

  • Risk assessments to identify key vulnerabilities.
  • Adaptation of essential infrastructure to withstand changes to the environment.
  • Development of flood defenses to protect inhabited areas from flooding caused by extreme weather events and increased rainfall.
  • Urban planning and relocation of buildings, including adapting to future developments that allow greater resilience to the consequences of climate change.
  • Development of emergency warning and response plans—emergency response planning is a core pillar of resilience strategy.
  • Community engagement and awareness-raising activities.

Additional findings:

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