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Secretary Pete Buttigieg Remarks at PortMiami

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Thank you. Thank you very much. You all know how to make a Transportation Secretary feel welcome. And powerful! 

But of course, we are here to celebrate the power, not of anyone official, but of the transportation sector, and the power of transportation to make people better off, and the power of what can happen when a local vision, and local leadership, and local players come together in partnership with federal government, led by President Biden. That is exactly why we work so hard to get these infrastructure dollars made available and why we're so proud and excited to be here. 

Like the Mayor, I want to start by acknowledging that the pain of what is happening in the Middle East is close to home for so many in this area, and in this community. That we stand with our friends and our allies, and that we stand in unequivocal condemnation of the Hamas terrorist attack and of any targeting of civilians. And I'm glad that our President is demonstrating American leadership right now, in the most challenging of circumstances, working to make sure that we show our resolve, and leading the international community in expressing that support for the legitimate aspirations of all people, including all civilians, all Israeli and  Palestinian civilians, stands alongside the moral certainty that civilians should never be put in harm's way through terrorist attacks. And I recognize how much that pain is felt by so many here.

So many things going on  in our country that are disorienting and troubling right here at home; like the fact that we are still waiting to hear word on getting a functional House of Representatives. And yet we know that if we take care of the basics, if we take care of the fundamentals, we will have a better life for all of us working from the ground up - and that begins at the local level. 

I want to acknowledge and thank Representative Wilson, I know that she had very much hoped to be here she is doing the people's business in Washington DC, but I don't want to miss the chance to emphasize that all of this is possible because of the legislation that Representative Frederica Wilson and a whole bunch of other House Representatives and Senators - and I would add, a handful of Republicans who were willing to cross the aisle and work with Democrats and work with President Biden to get this done - made this happen. A piece of legislation that was described, a half a dozen times while we were fighting to get it done as dead, but we got it done, because America needed it. And with us, were leading local voices, like Mayor Daniella Levine Cava who was with us, not just when we celebrated the President signing the bill, but when we needed those local leading voices to explain why these improvements were so necessary. So, thank you for being with us before and since that effort and that celebration. 

So, glad to be reunited with my friend, Oliver Gilbert; like me, a former Mayor, but the Mayor mentality never leaves you. Thank you for your leadership, for that of all of the elected officials who are here. Thank you to the port, to Director Hydi Webb, and to everybody here for your extraordinary work, including the commitment to resiliency that we share. And, I'll have more to say about this in a little bit, but thank you so much to the workers of the ILA and all of the workers here, who are what literally keeps America moving and keeps this port in business. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

I grew up on a different coast, the banks of the Saint Joseph River in Northern Indiana look a little bit different from PortMiami. But both places remind us that one of the great blessings that has made America, America is access to waterways and the prosperity, and the commerce, and the possibility that comes with it. But of course, just being physically close to a shoreline or a coastline isn't enough, and Miami's history gives us a great example, recognizing that it's what you do with that opportunity. It was the decision to dredge a shipping channel and extend the rail line here in the late 1800s and then, to construct this new port, by connecting multiple land spans here in 1960, that helped make Miami the global center that we know it to be today. Our predecessors understood the importance of supply chains and they adapted the terrain to be able to get goods to and from this city and this area, which then enabled generations of economic opportunity. 

So as we look to the supply chain needs and the challenges of our time, we are not just sitting around with what we've inherited and resting with that. We are taking things to the next level. So I’m thankful for this opportunity, not just to highlight the good work going on here and to remind PortMiami and the communities in and around Miami of your importance. But to talk a little bit about how far we’ve come with our supply chains, where we are now, and what we've got to do to strengthen them and get ready for the future. 

You think about it. It was just two years ago, just two years ago, October of 2021 that many a cable news host was breathlessly proclaiming that Christmas was going to be canceled. That's how dire our supply chains looked like they were. We were paying more, we were waiting longer.  On the West Coast a hundred ships were bearing down on those ports and every area of our supply chain, from trucks and warehousing, to ports, was under strain. But Christmas was not cancelled. Matter of fact, after all of the work that we did, we saw on all-time record high in the throughput of goods through America's ports, by the end of that year. How did that happen? A lot of work from the Administration, for sure; President Biden brought together players from across the supply chain to address some of the biggest disruptions. We built temporary inland container yards in places from Savannah to Oakland. We helped ports like LA and Long Beach expand operations. We partnered on ways to make sure the shippers got a little motivation to move more quickly with a fee structure to encourage them to do that. And above all the workers who have been working day in day out, who don't exactly have the option of coming in on Zoom or delivering these goods by working from home, worked in a way that saw to it that people received about 99% of their packages on time were with minimal delays for major shippers. And again, we had record cargo movements in 2021 and then in 2022. So thank you to everyone who was a part of that. 

Importantly, this matters even to people who don't work in transportation every day, don't think about transportation every day, because it is a big part of one of the struggles that is on all of our minds, which is the struggle to keep prices down - the fight against inflation. Economists think that one of the reasons why inflation is down about two-thirds from last year, is the work that has been done to reduce shipping costs. Pacific shipping rates are down 80% from their peak. Now there’s a lot more work being done to bring costs down. It’s a top priority for this Administration, and it's why you see us doing everything from going after actors who are raising prices through anti-competitive corporate behavior, to why we have acted to make sure that seniors on Medicare are now paying $35 a month instead of $400 a month for insulin. And I want to emphasize reducing costs is part of what you're doing here, too. It is a big part of why we are investing in the long-term strength of our supply chains, because when goods move more efficiently, we see that reflected in prices at the store. 

That is part of the importance of what you're doing right here at PortMiami, and that brings me to your projects.

I want you to know these were extraordinarily competitive processes. Even with the fantastic resources available under President Biden's plan, we are not able to say yes to most of the applications that come in. But these projects rose to the top. 

And that is why we are so proud to be here to formally celebrate two major Biden-Harris Administration grants to expand and strengthen PortMiami. 

We're going to work together to expand the speed and the capacity of cargo moving through this port, helping to add two new tracks to the on-port rail yard, which will translate to 87,000 containers of additional rail capacity per year.  We'll fix a major truck bottleneck, helping to modernize the cargo gate system. 

The point is not just to get America's supply chains to what they look like before the pandemic, which was fine on a good day, but too often not able to handle a disruption. Our goal is to strengthen these supply chains and bring more of them home to America, so that they are not just fair-weather supply chains, but ones that can withstand all of the threats they face.

Which brings me to the other great challenges we are facing right now especially for supply chains. And that is the extreme weather brought about by climate change. Even the terrible disruptions we all live through in the pandemic might pale in comparison to what climate change would cause if we do not act to protect ourselves from things that are unfolding all around us. 

And Miami knows the stakes better than most. Sunny day flooding, blue sky flooding, in the city now happens four times more often than it did in 2006. Which means if left unchecked it will flood our supply chains too. And  we're seeing this everywhere in the country. Rail lines in Texas are being flooded out. The Mississippi River got so low they had to halt barge traffic. Mudslides closed down a major freight highway in Colorado. Wildfires closed freight railroads in California. Those are just a few examples of what we have seen in recent years - and it's accelerating. So what are we going to do about it? Well, the projects that you are working on here, with backing from our Administration, helps show the way. Because in addition to increasing PortMiami's cargo capacity, these are projects that will also make the port more resilient against rising sea levels from climate change by strengthening stormwater management systems. And only a Mayor knows just how beautiful a stormwater management system can be. 

And not only are our supply chains impacted by climate change; we have to be part of the solution to climate change… reducing the amount of carbon pollution created at this port, with things like electric gantry trains and reduced truck congestion means less greenhouse gas emissions and it means cleaner air for everybody who lives right around this port.  

And this isn't just about all the things that could go wrong if we allow these problems to accelerate, it's about the opportunity we're unleashing. It is time, right here, right now in the transportation sector, to break the old, false choice between resilience/climate work and jobs; and recognize the opportunity to support and create more good paying jobs through this action on resilience and climate. Whether it's construction workers doing the modernization of the infrastructure, workers manufacturing the materials and the low carbon equipment being used in these projects, like the electric cranes that will soon be operating in more and more ports in this country. Or the ways we can protect good jobs in America. I'm thinking about American workers who make vehicles that are exported to the world through this very port, and who depend on this port operating smoothly to fulfill those orders, so more of our goods go overseas and the funds come here home instead of the other way around. 

I know a lot of this seems very commonsensical, because of fire or a flood or for that matter, inflation, doesn't pick out Republican or Democrat homes or businesses to hurt. And yet, we do see in Washington and in some state capitals, still a denial that these issues are real and urgent. I think there are real costs of some of the misinformation that is coming from some voices, especially in Washington, who are telling you not to believe your own eyes, not to believe your own insurance bill. When they do that, it reduces trust in our institutions at a time when trust is already so low. Just last month some extreme Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to cut funding for supply chain infrastructure improvements, like ones that we’re making here, by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. If we want to keep inflation low for the long term, we cannot afford to be content with what we have; we have to improve, we have to invest, we have to build, we have to grow; this is the wrong time to stop and the right time to do more than we ever had. 

And we are proud to work with you and ready, always, to work across jurisdictional lines, across state lines, across party lines, to make that happen. And that's what is it’s going to take. 

I'm excited about the infrastructure decade that we are building together. It wasn't that long ago that infrastructure week was a punchline in Washington. Now, it is truly the beginning of an infrastructure decade. I have seen the improvements in communities large and small. I've seen them on roads and bridges, trains and transit, airports and ports like this one. And I think just like school children today read about the New Deal in the aftermath of the great depression, kids one day are going to be reading about the big deal of what we got done together in places like PortMiami and around the country. 

So I want to thank and congratulate you for this good work. I want to thank you for the very warm welcome, and urge you in your way.   

(Ship horn sounds)

And, with some punctuation from our supply chains in action, let me thank everybody for your continued great work. You've got a lot to celebrate and be proud of here in Miami. Thank you.