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Transcript: Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at the Port of Los Angeles

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

It is so good to be here. So good to be back in California, back in Los Angeles, back aboard the deck of the Iowa, which is a national treasure. And so pleased to be among friends and among people who are at the forefront of America's transportation systems and supply chains, creating jobs and benefiting people in literally every part of this country and with impact around the world.

Great to be with Gene Seroka, I was just thinking about when you and Mario and President Adams from the ILWU and I were sitting with the President in the Roosevelt Room, just a little under a year ago, with about a hundred ships bearing down on these ports. And to think that now that backlog is cleared -- no one thinks we're out of the woods -- but remembering when they said that that holidays were more or less canceled, seeing the teamwork and the collaboration and the effort of the workers that got us to an all-time record high in retail sales that season, and seeing the work that's going on now, knowing that results will only continue to come if we continue to invest, is what we're all about. 

I want to thank Representative Barragán for your support. She never hesitates to advocate for her district. I can tell you that because every time we speak, she's urging me to come here and/or make sure resources come here -- and I'll have a little more to say in a moment about how fortunate we are to have not just her support for this district, but her and colleagues’ support for the infrastructure investments and the broader investments that we're making. 

I want to thank Sal for speaking for the ILWU, all of the members of labor union leadership who are here and who have played such an extraordinary role -- you and your members who were not able to "Zoom" to work through these last years and who we count on so much. 

And of course, my great friend Mayor Garcetti --  someone who I looked to when I was a mayor, who made me a better mayor, who continues to be a great friend, who is a partner in problem-solving for the Biden-Harris Administration, and who continues to demonstrate how a great leader can deliver results, not only for the community he is entrusted with leading, but on a national and global basis. And I can't help but notice, Eric, every time I see you, it seems to be good news that we're celebrating. We're going to continue that great streak. 

We're proud to be here marking such important progress being made on our supply chains. But also recognizing again, that that there is so much more to do. And the project here that we're celebrating is a great example of exactly what the Biden-Harris Administration's vision for building a better America looks like in practice. 

And this is a particular moment where we're celebrating not just what's happening at the port, but people being able to breathe a little bit easier at kitchen tables across the country because of the Inflation Reduction Act that was signed just a few weeks ago with the Congresswoman's support, your Senators' support and the enthusiastic support of this Administration. 

We're talking about prescription drugs being more affordable for seniors, health insurance less expensive for millions of Americans, families saving money on their utility bills. And I would note that even though this regrettably did not get the support of any Republicans in Congress, it does have a wide bipartisan support from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents across this country. It also represents the most significant climate legislation passed by this or any other country ever. 

And that happens alongside the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that the Congresswoman and your Senator supported, allowing us to say "yes" to more good projects like this. 

But I want you to understand that, even with this added funding, this was an extremely competitive round. We got $13 billion of applications for $2 billion of funding. And so the projects that rose to the top are ones that demonstrated clear and compelling value to the American people. And everyone who worked on that here has a lot to be proud of. 

I've been fortunate to spend a lot of time talking with Gene and his team and the workers represented here, especially over the course of this last year. Virtual meetings, in person meetings, here in LA, in Washington, and at so many moments between those early conversations. And this is where we see that actions speak louder than words. The actions we've taken together: improving data sharing, fees helping to motivate shippers to move their products more quickly, and so many other steps, we've seen that extraordinary progress -- the counts of those ships bearing down on these ports from the hundreds to numbers that you can count on one or two hands. Fewer delays, even as the workers here are moving record amounts of cargo, at a port complex responsible for more than a third of all the containers coming into or leaving the entire country by sea.

So to speak, we're not out of the water entirely. We are seeing longer wait times on East Coast ports right now. And while we've seen shipping costs come down, they've got further to go as part of our fight against inflation. There's more to do to fix the supply chains that were torn up by the pandemic and to make them more resilient for the American economy for years to come. 

And right here we have a great example of that. 

The 80-acre maritime support facility was repurposed last year to store chassis and empty containers for every terminal at the Ports of LA and Long Beach, which was an innovative step to help address the bottlenecks here. The problem is the lack of a bridge for the trucks to get over the rail line that loops that facility. So, the trucks spend a long time waiting. My word of the day is centroid, that's what they call this peculiar shape you see on that board. It's effectively a railroad loop surrounding as many containers as you can imagine. And the problem is there's only one way in and there's only one way out and it's not efficient. That's impeding the movement of hundreds of thousands of cargo containers, creating delays that ripple as far as the American Midwest, the East Coast, and everywhere in between. 

And that's going to change. 

I am delighted to be here to formally celebrate the award of $20 million to the Port of Los Angeles to build a new four-lane roadway and bridge over that railway.

This is what good infrastructure investments look like. As the state leaders who are here who have fought for infrastructure investments at the state level know, as Mayor Villaraigosa knows so well from his leadership of the city and his current role -- it's always a good idea to put a mayor in charge of something important, so we regarded it as an inspired choice. It's not about the numbers on the page and the dollars in the spreadsheets. It's about putting them to work to solve problems. And that's what's going on right here. 

These improvements are expected to reduce trucking delays by almost 2,500 truck hours every single day. It's going to allow freight trains to move goods more rapidly. And yes, that's part of the fight against inflation because it can help reduce shipping costs and the cost of goods. 

It's going to make the trip safer for truck drivers. It's hard to believe how low and how small the current one-way tunnel is. Trucks have to drive at about five miles an hour because there's no margin for error -- just a couple of inches between the top of the truck and the roof of the tunnel. 

And, very importantly, the fact that the trucks will not be waiting and idling will reduce thousands of tons of emissions per year so that the families who are living near these ports can breathe cleaner air, which is a matter of environmental justice and public health. 

And it's going to be built under a project labor agreement: union workers from the local area, and apprenticeship opportunities to bring new people into these good paying and great careers. 

Creating this site last year was an innovative and fast solution to Covid supply chain challenges. Now, we're helping to make it more permanent and more effective.

And with grants like this we're making investments in communities across the country. Just from this one program alone, 166 grants across the United States. And I'm tempted to tell you about all of them, but I'm going to behave. But I want to give you just a flavor. 

We were in Fernley, couldn't be more different from here, not a drop of water for a very long way around Fernley in northern Nevada, in the desert, where we're helping build an inland port near a major manufacturing and logistics hub to help move goods more affordably and efficiently. 

And a little closer to here, tomorrow I'm going to get to see the road upgrades we're building in Fontana, reducing traffic and giving kids safer trips to school. There's an obsolete transit facility in Yuba and Sutter Counties; we're going to replace it with a new one, supporting a zero-emission bus fleet. We're helping the Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation create walking and biking paths along Highway 101. All told, California alone will see nearly $120 million just from this round of RAISE grants. And we are delighted to see the results those are going to bring. 

So look, this is happening in the context of a lot of good news for our country: new laws that are saving families money on their health care, prescription drugs, and energy costs. And that large investment in climate change. Strengthening care and benefits from America's veterans, something that has been a long time coming. Bringing high tech manufacturing jobs back to America, so we're seeing more and more of the goods made in America exported through these ports and not just on the inbound side --making life better every day in ways seen and unseen for everyone. 

So, we couldn't be prouder to be with local, with state, and with federal leaders here. With workers and with everybody who is, whether people realize it or not, responsible for that watch you're wearing, that shirt you're wearing, whatever you had for breakfast, whatever device you're using to watch this interaction, you have the people of this facility to thank for it and we are here to help. 

Thanks so much for the chance to join you.