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Transcript: Secretary Buttigieg Remarks in Port of Baltimore

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Thank you so much Senator. You mentioned my time in Afghanistan—I think the last time I was surrounded by this many containers, I was living in one and working in another around Bagram Airfield. But there’s a little more water nearby this time. 

I want to thank Senator Cardin and Senator Van Hollen for your leadership, and for the momentous action in the Senate that you played a role in—and as was mentioned, in particular, your leadership on the issues of equity, as well as environmental justice, in the transportation decisions in the future. 

I want to thank Director Doyle and his colleagues for your enthusiasm, for your achievements, and for your remarkable tour of this facility. The pride you rightly feel in the people of this facility is contagious. 

Mayor Scott, congratulations on your achievements. Thank you for the warm welcome. When I was mayor, I believed that the job of mayor was the most on-the-ground, front line, key role in delivering for citizens. Now that I’m in a federal role I know that to be true. And I admire the work and the challenge you face every day.  

And I want to thank Governor Hogan for his leadership, for his bipartisan voice, and for the convincing case that he has made for the bipartisan infrastructure deal that went through such a key hurdle yesterday. We’re proud to be in your state Governor; thanks for the warm welcome as well.  

To the leaders, to the workers who are here, to the union leaders we’ve engaged with: I want to thank you for everything you’ve done—especially during the last 16 months, which have been so challenging for everyone in America, but especially here, where you have longshore workers, terminal operators, truckers, railroad workers, mariners, and so many others who weren’t exactly able to come in on Zoom to work. They had to be here, day in, day out. And through that, they’ve kept food, goods, and importantly, medicine, moving to where it needed to be. We thank you for keeping this nation afloat. 

The Port of Baltimore, I’ve learned, is older than the city of Baltimore—in fact, older than the United States. Today, this is one of the busiest seaports in the United States. It handles more autos and farm construction equipment than any other U.S. port. I’ve been thinking about how a piece of equipment, made somewhere in the auto supply chain—in, let’s say, South Bend, Indiana—makes its way through here, on a finished vehicle, in order to get to an export market. 

We just toured a container terminal, discussing ways to make sure containers can move as efficiently as possible, while protecting workers. 

So much of what we buy and sell is flowing through ports like the one we’re at right now, with top-of-the-line machinery that was made in America, like we’re seeing here.  

So we know that when the ports work, our entire economy works. 

When they get congested, the impacts ripple throughout our entire economy.   

With COVID-19, with spikes and unevenness in consumer demand, we have seen unprecedented cargo volumes going through American ports, and issues related to congestion. We saw vehicles waiting for microchips. The port is doing its job, but there’s an issue in the supply chain that is causing issues all in and out—not just on the coast but around every part of the country   

That’s why the Biden Administration’s Task Force on Supply Chain Disruptions is focusing things like improving cargo throughput and addressing congestion. 

We need to work within the system we have today, but we’ve also got to improve the system for the future. That’s what the bipartisan infrastructure deal—that we got such great news on from the Senate—is all about.  

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our infrastructure, including investing $17 billion to improve our ports and waterways. That means increasing the volume of goods that our ports can handle. It means positioning America to be more economically competitive for the decades to come. And, crucially, it’s an opportunity to help us reduce the environmental impact of ports on the communities that surround them.  

Right here, we see examples of what’s possible. Our own Maritime Administration, within our Department, partnered with the Maryland Port Administration on a pilot project showing how algae could be converted into on-site energy, and reduce pollution through that process. It’s just one example of the kind of innovation that we can supercharge in the context of the largest infrastructure package in almost a century.  

And that’s just the port side of things. 

This is part of a bigger infrastructure system, that will see the largest investment in public transit ever; the largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak was stood up, in the first place; the first-ever dedicated program to reconnect communities divided by past transportation projects—and again, I want to thank the Senators for blazing a trail on vindicating that policy idea; the largest investment in clean drinking water and waste water infrastructure we’ve ever done; a commitment to making sure there is affordable broadband for every single American; and the largest investment in clean energy transmission and electric vehicle infrastructure we’ve ever had.  

This is our opportunity to make sure that every single American who drives a car, takes the bus, uses the train, steps on board an aircraft, drinks water from their tap—in other words, every single American—sees their life get better. 

And of course, I want to emphasize, one more time, that jobs is the point of all of this. Right here in Baltimore, we’ve seen the work and the workers who create opportunity and prosperity for their neighborhood, for their community, and for their families. And we’re going to continue supporting those jobs, with infrastructure, both on and beyond the ports. 

I do want to mention the planned expansion of the 126-year-old Howard Street Tunnel, as one more example of how it all fits together. 

This is going to accommodate double-stacked rail cars moving cargo to and from the port. And it’s just one example of the job creation potential of even one good infrastructure project. It’s expected to generate 6,500 construction jobs, and an additional 7,300 jobs because of the increased business that it’s going to make possible.  

That’s what it means to have a blue-collar blueprint for this generation and the next generation—like the young people the mayor and I saw at the Global Air Drone Academy earlier this afternoon: people from every background, learning skills that are going to help usher them into the transportation workforce of tomorrow. 

We are so close, but we are not there yet. So we are urging Congress to get this bill to the President’s desk, so that our Department can get to work partnering with cities, with states, with ports, and everybody else who has a stake in our economy to deliver for the 21st Century.