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Paul Hall Center 50th Anniversary – Convention Speech

Remarks As Delivered by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Paul Hall Center 50th Anniversary – Convention Speech
Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Thank you for that kind introduction, President Sacco.

President Sacco, Vice President Tellez, Secretary-Treasurer Heindel, and members of the Seafarers International Union, it’s wonderful to be here for the convention. And I look forward to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education, as well.  

I would like to pause for a moment to say our hearts are with all those who endured the devastation of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria. I have mobilized the Department of Transportation to provide prompt assistance to restore the transportation systems damaged by these hurricanes. That includes the release of $25 million in immediate emergency funds both to Texas and Florida, $2.5 million to Puerto Rico, and $2 million to the Virgin Islands.  MARAD has also dispatched 4 ships to provide power, food, clean water and berthing to federal responders.  And I want to thank the Seafarers for helping us out.  29 Seafarers as well as 4 members of the AMO, augmented the crew of the TS Empire State, and 14 Seafarers augmented the crew of the TS Kennedy! 

In addition, the Federal Highway Administration is making inspectors available to help ensure that highways and bridges are safe.  And, DOT will be sending more than 49 employees who have volunteered to go to the hurricane damage zones to assist FEMA. 

I visited Texas with Vice President Pence in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and the devastation we saw was heartbreaking!  But the outpouring of help and concern from all over the country has been awe inspiring.  The Department’s goal, even during this emergency, will be to maximize employment of American seafarers and American-flagged vessels in the recovery efforts. So we will be vigilant about requests for waivers of the Jones Act that are unnecessary to deal with the emergency.

In addition to conducting the business of your convention, we are also here today to celebrate 50 years of training and education at this Center, named for the union’s second president, Paul Hall.  In 2003, as U.S. Secretary of Labor, I was proud to induct Paul Hall into the Labor Hall of Fame.  President Sacco joined me on stage at the time to honor this maritime pioneer and visionary.  Paul Hall fought for a better life for seafarers, a strengthened Merchant Marine, stronger protections for workers, and better opportunities for young people and people of color. When I was Secretary of Labor, the department worked closely with the Center, which received a grant under the President's High Growth Job Training Initiative to train workers in the maritime industry.  The Center continues Paul Hall’s life work by providing entry level and advanced training for seafarers. That work is still vital today.

My friendship with President Sacco began long before I became a cabinet member.  I first met him when I served as Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration.  The friendship and working relationship we established continues to this day.  The Department and my office are open to him, where ever I am, and his visits are welcomed not only by me, but the by the Department as well.  

This relationship will only be strengthened now that the new MARAD administrator, Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, is on board.  He will join you tomorrow!  Admiral Buzby attended Kings Point, and then served in the Navy before being appointed Maritime Administrator.  He is a strong advocate for the maritime industry.  Thank you, President Sacco and Vice President Tellez, for coming to his swearing in ceremony at the Department.

Today, let me share with you a few thoughts about our country’s critical transportation infrastructure.  Currently, this Administration is working on a proposal to rebuild and revitalize our country’s infrastructure, including ports and waterways.  This will impact every sector, including maritime.  As you know so well, our ports are increasingly becoming intermodal hubs. They must be able to accommodate larger bulk carriers, and manage transfers to other transportation modes, including rail and freight trucks.  We must make strategic use of new and better technologies.

So this Administration will propose a ten-year program that will use $200 billion in direct federal seed money to generate $1 trillion in infrastructure investment.  This infrastructure will cover roads, bridges, tunnels, waterways, airports, water supplies, power transmission, broad band and even veterans’ hospitals. 

A key part of the plan is eliminating the unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks and delays that are holding up the delivery of new infrastructure for years, even decades.  Let me mention a few horror stories that illustrate the urgent need for these reforms.  In 1936, it took only five years to complete the Hoover Dam—one of the greatest infrastructure projects of the 20th century.  By comparison, DOT recently announced the opening of an additional runway at the Taos, New Mexico airport.  It took 19 years to complete because of the permitting and approval process.  And I just returned from Alaska, where the Department was finally able to clear the way for a road that provides year-round access to medical care for a small community.  It took 35 years to get the approval!   And replacing the Bonner Bridge in the Outer Banks of North Carolina took 26 years!  Nine of those years were spent resolving a conflict over right of way with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  With all due respect to any affected fish or wildlife, this is just too long! 

So on August 15, 2017, the White House issued a new executive order to fast track and centralize federal decision making on infrastructure. The new process is called One Federal Decision. It requires that decision making for each major infrastructure project be centralized under one federal department.  Permits must be issued within 90 days of a Record of Decision.  In addition, all federal environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects must be completed within two years. This will improve environmental outcomes by delivering infrastructure improvements more quickly, and spending resources on actual environmental mitigation, rather than stacks of paperwork. 

The Department has established a Task Force on Regulatory Reform that has identified additional legislative and regulatory changes to streamline project approval.  And we will continue to make prudent, common sense reforms.
These changes will help MARAD and the Department in the continuing effort to strengthen and support America’s maritime industry. While the infrastructure proposal takes shape, however, there are other DOT programs available to assist the maritime industry.  For example, the Department makes loans and grants that can be used to build intermodal facilities at ports.

And MARAD will continue to:   

  • Strengthen the Maritime Security Program, which supports our international trading fleet and maintains America’s ability to globally project our armed forces;
  • Maximize access to U.S. government impelled preference cargo;
  • Maintain support of the Jones Act;
  • Engage, train, and support American mariners; and
  • Foster the development of ports, waterways and intermodal connectors.

Let me note that MARAD berths the Freedom Star here at the Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship.  The school maintains vessel readiness for MARAD missions at a reduced cost to the government, and can also use the Freedom Star for training.  It’s a great partnership.

Strengthening America’s maritime industry is not just a matter of economics, though this industry is vital to America’s prosperity.  It is not just a matter of jobs, though this sector provides employment that supports hundreds of thousands of families.  The maritime industry supports a strong, independent way of life that has been a vital part of America since its founding. 

As the daughter of a merchant mariner, this industry has deep and lasting roots in my career, and in my heart.  And as you may know, I arrived in this country not by plane, but on a cargo ship.  It was a sea journey of over 11,000 nautical miles that took 37 days.  So the maritime industry brought me safely to my new home, and I continue to be grateful for that, every day!

So thank you for everything you are doing to continue our country’s long and historic maritime tradition. Thank you for everything you are doing to support, nurture and advance the next generation of merchant mariners.   And thank you, President Sacco, for your many years of strong leadership and patriotism to our country.  Congratulations on a great convention!

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Updated: Thursday, September 28, 2017
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