Customs and Border Protection Revokes New Ruling Regarding Offshore Wind

Jonathan K. Waldron and Stefanos N. Roulakis

Stakeholders in offshore wind, particularly vessel operators and project managers, should ignore a recent U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) ruling on offshore wind. While there had been buzz about this ruling, CBP has revoked the ruling based on a misunderstanding of the facts in question in the ruling request. As such, there are no recent rulings related to offshore wind, and stakeholders should continue to examine their Jones Act compliance plans with experienced counsel and seek rulings as needed.

NEW DEVELOPMENT

A recent CBP ruling, HQ H309672 (July 15, 2020) (the “Ruling”), drew the attention of many in the industry since the last ruling relating to offshore wind was issued approximately nine years ago for the Deepwater Wind project in 2011. The Ruling related to wind farm activities occurring in the territorial sea off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. CBP has since published a revocation notice, HQ H312773 (August 3, 2020) (the “Revocation”), which was published on the CBP website on August 12, 2020, retracting the Ruling. CBP’s stated reason for the revocation was the lack of clarity on whether the “activities would occur in the territorial sea or on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”)” and that it would be best to revoke the Ruling “until the coordinates of the installation can be established.”

BACKGROUND

In 2011, CBP issued Blank Rome a ruling on behalf of the Deepwater Wind project that the use of a crane that is aboard a non-coastwise-qualified vessel to load and unload wind turbines in the territorial seas is not prohibited by the Jones Act. No rulings have been issued on an offshore wind project since the 2011 ruling. Since that time, we understand CBP has declined to rule on requests to issue a ruling on the applicability of the Jones Act to offshore wind activities occurring on the OCS and whether a wind farm foundation or other devices attached to the seabed for wind farm purposes would constitute a coastwise point under the Jones Act.

Please click here for the full client alert.

Implications of Jones Act Changes to the Offshore Energy Industry

Jonathan K. Waldron and Stefanos N. Roulakis

Vessels are the backbone of any offshore construction project, and the Jones Act, which celebrated its centennial this month, regulates their operations in U.S. waters on the Outer Continental Shelf. Originally promulgated as a transportation statute, the Jones Act has governed vessels engaging in offshore construction for nearly four decades. While offshore oil and gas construction operations have been conducted in compliance with the Jones Act for decades, with the burgeoning offshore wind sector there is renewed interest on how the Jones Act will be applied to such projects. Indeed, planning for Jones Act compliance is a major component of successful wind farm installation operations, as has been the case for years with oil and gas-related work. Interestingly, despite the fact that the Jones Act is now a century old, there have been recent significant regulatory and legal developments in its interpretation.

Specifically, after years of debate within the offshore industry, on December 19, 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) issued its decision in its Customs Bulletin, “Modification and Revocation of Ruling Letters Relating to CBP’s Application of the Jones Act to the Transportation of Certain Merchandise and Equipment Between Coastwise Points” (the “Decision”). The Decision became effective on February 17, 2020. Offshore developers, vessel operators, and other stakeholders must now face the question: How does the Decision affect offshore activities?

Further, the Decision currently faces challenges both in Congress and the courts. Some members of Congress who are not pleased with CBP’s actions have been focused on legislating in this area and modifying the Jones Act to include restrictions on lifting operations undertaken by installation vessels. This would effectively overrule parts of the Decision. Stakeholders in the offshore wind, ocean renewable energy, and offshore oil and gas sectors should pay attention to these developments as they will intimately impact offshore construction activities.

Background on the CPB Decision

In both 2009 and 2017, CBP published notices to revoke or modify various rulings, which potentially could have overturned decades of precedent with regard to a sweeping range of offshore operations that have never been subject to the Jones Act. To be frank, CBP did not fully understand how the offshore industry operated offshore, and the proposals were potentially overbroad without CBP understanding the economic impacts on the various types of offshore operations these proposals would have adversely affected. As a result of strong industry backlash on both occasions, the proposals were withdrawn for reconsideration.  Finally, following the 2017 withdrawal, CBP undertook an intensive exchange of information with all facets of industry to fully understand how industry actually operates offshore and to fine-tune and focus its 2019 proposal on vessel equipment issues and lifting operations, which resulted in a decision that took into account comments and input from all stakeholders.

As far as substance, the Decision eliminates previous erroneous decisions that permitted non-coastwise-qualified vessels to transport items that should have been considered merchandise under the Jones Act. The Decision also clarifies that lifting operations may be conducted by non-Jones Act vessels. Specifically, as discussed in more detail below, the Decision 1) broadens the definition of merchandise to make it clear that non-Jones Act vessels can no longer carry out certain offshore activities that they have performed for years under a misguided and overly broad “mission of the vessel” theory, and 2) establishes a new interpretation of “Lifting Operations” to specify the movements that a non-Jones Act vessel can perform when conducting installation or decommissioning operations, which will not be considered “transportation” within the meaning of the Jones Act.

Should the Decision be overturned either in court or through legislation, it will have a significant impact on the market for offshore construction, whether for renewable energy or fossil fuel production. Currently, there are few or no Jones Act-qualified vessels that can perform the necessary lifting operations needed to undertake the multitude of varying construction projects offshore, depending on the crane capacity and vessel and stability characteristics required for a particular lifting operation. Continue Reading

Navigating the Maritime Regulatory Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Maritime stakeholders should examine key guidance documents that have been published by U.S. government agencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some of these guidance documents create new opportunities for stakeholders, while others may impact operations in U.S. waters. Regardless of effect, businesses involved in maritime commerce should be aware of these updates and plan accordingly. For example, companies who depend on non-U.S. citizen crews for operations in U.S. waters should be adequately prepared to equip crew with support letters during visa interviews and transit to the United States. And, vessel owners and operators with upcoming ballast water compliance dates should examine whether installation is feasible in this climate and seek extensions to their compliance date if it is not.

EW DEVELOPMENTS

The COVID-19 pandemic and the logistical and operational challenges it has caused have raised a host of questions within the maritime industry. A number of government agencies have sought to clarify expectations and even ease some requirements for the industry. Some of these changes, such as changes to the approach to extending the compliance date for installation of ballast water management systems, were directly intended to benefit the maritime industry. Other updates, such as the U.S. entry restrictions instituted via a Presidential Proclamation, did not target the maritime industry, but the impact was felt by companies that rely on the ability to have crewmembers travel through the United States. Below is a summary of some key guidance documents that are affecting the maritime industry during this pandemic.

ANALYSIS

Visas and Entry Restrictions

On March 14, 2020, a Presidential Proclamation entitled “Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus” (available here) was issued, which included a travel ban for several countries. This Proclamation contained an exception for “any alien traveling as a nonimmigrant pursuant to a C‑1, D, or C-1/D nonimmigrant visa as a crewmember or any alien otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew.” However, there have been significant problems for holders of B-1 visas for offshore work, which stems from differing interpretations from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) and the State Department. To date, industry is still experiencing difficulty with some embassies, which apparently are not recognizing that B-1 crew type visas are exempt from the Presidential Proclamation and should be considered mission critical, leading to reluctance on the part of some embassies around the world to issue these visas on an emergency basis. Support letters should be provided to crew seeking appointments and these crew type visas.

Please click here for the full client alert.

Keeping up with the Jones Act

Dana S. Merkel

In the last several weeks, the Jones Act has drawn headlines over how it has shaped the U.S. and worldwide shipping industry. After almost 100 years as a part of federal law, there’s much misunderstanding as to what the law actually does.

The Jones Act requires that all merchandise loaded at one U.S. port and unloaded at another U.S. port be transported on vessels that are:

      • built in the United States;
      • documented under the laws of the United States;
      • owned by U.S. citizens; and
      • never sold to a foreign citizen.

The Jones Act only applies to domestic U.S. trade. It has no impact on vessels transporting cargo to or from another country. Similar laws also apply to domestic transportation of passengers, towing, dredging, salvage, and fishing. Continue reading “Keeping up with the Jones Act”

Potential Impacts of Offshore Legislation on Industry

Jonathan K. Waldron and Stefanos N. Roulakis

The U.S. House of Representatives has introduced legislation that could potentially greatly alter the landscape for oil, gas, and wind installation and decommissioning activities on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”). Stakeholders should examine the legislation for impacts to their operations.

New Development

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure marked up and approved H.R. 3409, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2019 (“2019 CGAA”) on June 26, 2019. This legislation, if enacted, could have significant impacts on how oil, gas, and wind vessel activities are conducted on the OCS. Of particular note, the legislation could have an outsized effect on offshore wind in the United States, which is at a nascent stage and requires installation activities of the type contemplated in the 2019 CGAA.

Background

In January 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) proposed to overturn decades of precedent with regard to offshore operations potentially subject to the Jones Act in its “Proposed Modification and Revocation of Ruling Letters Relating to Customs Application of the Jones Act to the Transportation of Certain Merchandise and Equipment Between Coastwise Points” (the “Notice”). The Notice, which was published in the CBP Customs Bulletin, proposed the modification of approximately 25 CBP rulings that delineated the difference between “equipment of the vessel,” the transportation of which does not implicate the Jones Act, and “merchandise,” which may only be transported by qualified vessels under the Jones Act.

Please click here for the full client alert. 

After Flurry of Hurricane Waivers, Calls for Coastwise Changes Recede

Mainbrace | March 2018 (No.1)

Matthew J. Thomas, Jonathan K. Waldron, and Jeanne M. Grasso

 

 

 

In September 2017, in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) issued a series of widely publicized waivers allowing carriage of cargo by non-coastwise qualified vessels in the Gulf region and to and from Puerto Rico. Public interest in the Jones Act spiked in mid-September, and some members of Congress introduced legislation for longer-term relief, particularly for Puerto Rico. Although controversial, the waivers for the most part seemed to achieve their intended goal, allowing for additional capacity to be available to move certain critical cargoes, particularly in the energy and other bulk sectors. As discussed in more detail below, the way the waivers were granted was rel­atively unique in the context of hurricanes, and some con­troversy arose with regard to the Puerto Rico waiver. The waivers, however, expired as planned with no significant fanfare or controversy, and broader political and public interest in the Jones Act sub­sided after a flurry of activity. Continue reading “After Flurry of Hurricane Waivers, Calls for Coastwise Changes Recede”

Recent Hurricanes Wreak Havoc, Produce Bipartisan Congressional Support and Trump Jones Act Waivers

Mainbrace | October 2017 (No.4)

C.J. Zane, Alan Rubin, and Joan M. Bondareff

As we are putting this issue of Mainbrace to bed, our thoughts are with the residents of Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida who are still recovering from the rarest of U.S. tragedies—three major hurricanes to directly hit U.S. land within a month. These disasters brought unique opportunities for neighbors to help one another and for bipartisanship in Congress, including a new deal with President Trump. Continue reading “Recent Hurricanes Wreak Havoc, Produce Bipartisan Congressional Support and Trump Jones Act Waivers”

Department Of Homeland Security Approves Jones Act Waiver for Deliveries to Puerto Rico

Jonathan K. Waldron, Jeanne M. Grasso, Matthew J. Thomas, and Sean T. Pribyl

 

 

 

Action Item: On September 28, 2017, Acting Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Secretary Elaine Duke issued a 10-day Jones Act waiver, available here, in the interest of national defense and in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. The waiver commences immediately and applies to all products shipped from U.S. coastwise points to Puerto Rico. Covered merchandise must be laded on board a vessel within the 10-day period and delivered by October 18, 2017. Continue reading “Department Of Homeland Security Approves Jones Act Waiver for Deliveries to Puerto Rico”

Department Of Homeland Security Extends Jones Act Waiver

Jonathan K. Waldron, Jeanne M. Grasso, Matthew J. Thomas, and Sean T. Pribyl

 

 

 

Action Item: On September 12, 2017, Acting Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Secretary Elaine Duke issued a new Jones Act waiver for refined products, effectively broadening and extending the previously issued seven-day Jones Act waiver by an additional seven days, to now run through September 22, 2017. This second Jones Act waiver also expands the number of states to which the waiver applies, and now includes movement of refined petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, shipped from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico. The new waiver can be found here. Continue reading “Department Of Homeland Security Extends Jones Act Waiver”

Jones Act Waiver Granted In Response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Jeanne M. Grasso, Sean T. Pribyl, Matthew J. Thomas, and Jonathan K. Waldron

 

 

 

Action Item: On September 8, 2017, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) Elaine Duke granted a seven-day waiver of the Jones Act in the interest of national defense. The waiver was issued to facilitate the movement of refined petroleum products to be shipped from New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Louisiana to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Notably, this waiver applies to covered merchandise laded on board a vessel within the seven-day period of the waiver, and interested parties should be aware of the restrictions attendant to this waiver. The actual Jones Act waiver can be found here. Continue reading “Jones Act Waiver Granted In Response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma”