When the nation was squarely focused on the presidential election it was easy to lose sight of the urgent problems facing thousands of New York & New Jersey victims of Hurricane Sandy. Death. Destruction. Homelessness. Power outages. Shortages of food, water, gasoline. After President Obama made his visit and promised help in any way necessary, FEMA assistance was all but invisible, prompting former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to say that FEMA’s response in New York has been no better than it was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, for which it was lambasted.

But, there was one thing the federal government did right –post Sandy-- that many of us may have overlooked. It issued a temporary blanket waiver last week of the Jones Act which will allow foreign-flagged vessels (oil tankers coming up from the Gulf of Mexico) to help expedite gasoline to the Northeast. It’s important to note that gasoline supply in the northeast was fairly tight even before Sandy with northeast refineries operating only at 81.8 percent of capacity during the week ending Oct. 24, according to the Energy Information Administration.

As expected, the week ending Oct. 31 showed northeastern refineries taking preemptive steps prior to Sandy’s arrival, running at only 81.0% of capacity. Ands immediately after Sandy, east coast refinery output fell to 58.5 percent. One of the largest refineries in New Jersey (the Phillips 66 Bayway NJ plant with 238,000 bpd capacity) lost power for several days and another plant (Hess refinery in Port Reading) that regained power still remains idle.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the waiver of the Jones Act was because “the administration’s highest priority is ensuring the health and safety of those impacted by Hurricane Sandy and to remove a potential obstacle to bringing additional fuel to the storm-damaged region.” The waiver expires Nov. 13.
It’s encouraging to see the federal government use all of the tools at its disposal because just eight months ago, when retail prices soared as the northeast was in danger of losing refining capacity to potential plant closures in Philadelphia, it elected to do nothing.

Strange how the nearness of elections can inspire action.