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Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at Port Houston Bayport Container Terminal Ribbon Cutting

Friday, August 4, 2023

Well, thank you very much, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. It is always a pleasure and an honor to work with you. I have known and admired the Congresswoman long before we actually met, long before I was doing this work and I was reflecting, I think between the visits we've done together here, the airport, the high school, I think we've done trains, planes, and automobiles now together, and there's more where that came from. And I'm so thankful for your leadership.

Representative Sylvia Garcia, another steadfast partner to this Administration in transforming America's infrastructure. And I believe her when she says she has that list she's going to give me because she’s also a relentless advocate for this region and for this district. And remember, we would not be here with so much good news to celebrate if it were not for that infrastructure legislation and funding that both of these members and so many others have voted to make possible and partnered with President Biden to make possible. So, thank you for putting us in this position. 

And a big happy birthday to the United States Coast Guard. We should have brought a cake but I couldn't figure out how to get it into the overhead bin on the plane this morning, so hopefully $160 million dollars will have to do as a way to celebrate the good work going on here. You all may be part of the Department of Homeland Security now, but the DOT continues to feel a deep kinship with the Coast Guard and a great appreciation for what you do to secure this country and its waterways. 

I want to thank my colleague, Administrator Admiral Ann Phillips for the great work that she and the entire MARAD team have done. They have had more put on their plate in just a few years than - I think it's safe to say - the decades before that, and they have risen to the challenge magnificently. 

And to everybody from the Port who has welcomed us here today, Chairman Rick Campo, Director Roger Guenther, the Commissioners, the whole team who are here - not to mention the local and state officials who take such good care of this asset – I want to thank you for all of the terrific work here.

I want to recognize the construction workers who are the reason we're in a position to cut a ribbon today, to get this project done - including under some of the toughest circumstances like extreme weather and like the COVID pandemic. I want to thank Alan Robb and the International Longshoremen's Association. It's been said but it can't be said enough how much we have counted on port workers who can't exactly come to work on Zoom and who got the job done day-in, day-out, hot, cold, COVID; we have counted on you, and we thank you.

I want to pause for just a second, to talk about the progress that we have made, just in that short amount of time. When President Biden first took office, the pandemic had put enormous strain on our supply chains. We were paying more; we were waiting longer. At one point, we had about a hundred ships bearing down on those West Coast ports. News media were saying that Christmas was going to be canceled. 

But it wasn't. Something else happened instead. This country stepped up, this Administration stepped up, port workers stepped up. We brought together players from across the supply chain to address many of the biggest disruptions. So, that very same holiday season that they said was going to be a disaster, wound up being an all-time record high in the movement of cargo through America's ports. That is a testament to the hard work of the people who are involved in moving our goods around this country. 

Our ports moved record cargo in 2021 and 2022. Pacific shipping rates are down 90 percent from their peak. Inflation is down two-thirds from last year and I believe a big part of that is the reduction in shipping costs. 

And our continued work on supply chains is helping us grow and be more resilient against the disruptions of the future, and we’ve got some great examples of that here at Port Houston. 

I don't know about you, but whenever I see one of those ships go by in the containers I always try to imagine what's in them. What's in there? Is it stuffed animals that my kids are going to be playing with one day? Is it faucets that I'm going to use at the kitchen sink to get clean safe drinking water? Everything that we count on, this lucite podium, that speaker, the television somebody's going to use to watch this event - pretty good chance it came through one or more of America's ports. 

And Houston, Port Houston, and the activity that goes on here is a key engine of American economic prosperity. The last meeting I had before this - yesterday in our office - was with the Prime Minister of Mongolia, who is here to visit the Vice President, and also to execute an Open-Skies Trade Agreement, an aviation agreement between our two countries, we are very proud of it. 

One of the things he reminded me of as we sat and met, was the challenges that that country faces as a landlocked developing country, and it reminded me that we should never take for granted that among the great blessings that make America, America - are the access to these extraordinary shorelines and ports and the prosperity that that drives.

But having the shoreline alone isn't enough. About a hundred years ago, there was just a shallow swampy channel between Galveston Bay and Houston that severely limited the potential of trade and industry. And what happened next was a partnership, like the partnership we see here between the federal government and local communities. 

That's how they built the 50-mile Houston Ship Channel that connected Houston to the Bay, to the Gulf of Mexico, and to the rest of the world. And that undertaking help enable generations of economic growth, and today, that channel supports over 1.5 million jobs in the State of Texas alone. 

A former Chairman of the Port said that Houston, in his words, “Houston is truly the town, that built a port, that built a city.” And I think that's a great way to think about that impact. 

This is a community that doesn’t just sit around with what it already has. You had the vision with this project to expand the capacity and speed of what has already become the fifth largest container port in this great country. And that is why the U.S. Department of Transportation was so proud to support this project with $21.8 million and we bring our heartfelt congratulations to everybody who helped deliver on that and actually get it done. We're delighted to celebrate this with you. 

So, what does that add up to? Today, we are cutting the ribbon on a thousand additional feet of Wharf Six and a new rail for cranes to operate along this newly developed space. It means more goods will move more quickly and more affordably through Port Houston, keeping prices down and keeping products moving smoothly. 

That's only getting more important right now because American manufacturing is ramping up. Over 800,000 manufacturing jobs have been created since President Biden took office. It has been 40 years since we've had this scale of new manufacturing plants under construction - and we're going to need great ports to sell these fantastic, American-made products around the world. As the President often says, it is time to be importing jobs and exporting goods, instead of the other way around, and that's exactly what we're doing in this economy. 

Now, this Wharf expansion was in the works before I got here, just to be clear. It is something that the Department is proud to, and has been proud to support across administrations, but also now because of President Biden's Infrastructure Law, and because of the support from Members like those who are here today, we have more where that came from. $18 million that we awarded to help develop another thirty-nine acres of space at this very Bayport terminal, and the $142 million dollars that the Biden-Harris Administration is investing to help widen and deepen that Houston Ship Channel that's such an important part of this regional economy.

Matter-of-fact, across the country we have 37,000 projects underway benefiting from funding from that Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Even though we’ve got this nice air conditioning here, I will spare you the list of all 37,000, but I want to mention just a few from around the area. 

I had a chance to see in Port Arthur, Texas, at a facility that's a little bit smaller than this one, but very important to the region and to the community there, we’re redeveloping unused space to allow that port to handle more cargo. It's going to mean less truck pollution in a community with high cancer rates and it's going to mean economic growth there. In Caldwell County, we're constructing a new truck parking facility. We know how much we count on those truck drivers who get goods in and out. They count on parking, and when you have better parking, truck drivers have a safer place to rest and we can even prevent crashes. And in Houston, we're helping to purchase new clean, natural gas, and electric buses that are going to improve transit and health for residents; we're revitalizing, 2.8 miles of Telephone Road; implementing a flood warning system; and more. 

Now, those projects are underway so their funding is safe, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that right now as we speak, there are voices in the United States Congress making the case to cut infrastructure funding and reverse some of the progress that we have made.

I believe this is not the time to slash funding for ports or any other transportation infrastructure, especially because that funding in its original bill was passed on a bipartisan basis. Our Administration is fighting those cuts because we are just two years into this work, this infrastructure decade that Americans have waited a long time for, and we're not going to shortchange communities that need those investments. 

As you have heard from the leaders who spoke here, the vision is to go even further even faster and do even more, not less. That's exactly what we're focused on in this Administration right now. Again, this is a port that is part of the story as that prior Chairman put it, of the town, that built the port, that built the city. 

What we know is that when we invest in the right kind of infrastructure, whether it's roads and bridges, ports and airports, transit and rail; communities reach their highest economic potential, businesses do what they do best and our whole country grows with good paying jobs. 

America has that extraordinary ambition, the same kind of ambition that made it possible to build this ship channel in the first place, and we are showing that we can work together across jurisdictions, across party lines to deliver and get things done. And keep your eyes out because there will be many, many more ribbon cuttings for great infrastructure, here and across Texas and around the country, and we're just getting started.


It's great to do the award announcements. It's great to do the ground breakings, but there's nothing like a ribbon-cutting that signifies the successful completion of the project. So, congratulations to everyone who made this a reality, let’s make it official! Thank you!