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Transcript: Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Thank you very much, Mayor, for your warm welcome, for the kind words, for guiding our event right now, and for your true friendship. Mayor Garcetti is a mayor's mayor, so well-respected and admired in the community of mayors, and, I can tell, living and breathing his service to the people of Los Angeles literally every day - even as we anticipate him joining the Administration, with the very wise choice of the President to ask him to lead the U.S.’s representation in one of our most important relationships abroad.  

Thrilled to be here, likewise, with Mayor Garcia. Thank you for hosting us. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your leadership. And thank you for reminding me that I wasn't the only young mayor in the ranks back when I was doing it – it’s funny, we were on the boat and people were trying to get his attention and kept saying “mayor,” and my head still spins around to look that way, forgetting sometimes how things have changed. But during such challenging times, you and Mayor Garcetti have delivered such admirable leadership to those you serve.  

We're so glad to be here with union leadership, with Ron Herrera and the Teamsters - recognizing that sometimes a trucking issue 1,000 miles away might actually explain a shipping issue right here on the coast.  

We want to thank Willie Adams, and the Longshore workers that I had an opportunity to spend time with earlier today, truly the people who we have counted on in so many ways, who every single American depends on, whether you know it or not, and who very much do not have the opportunity to come to work by video conference. We appreciate everything that you've done and the sacrifices that your members have made. 

To Supervisors Solis and Hahn, thank you for your leadership. I think you demonstrate what us current or former local leaders always say, which is that where the rubber really meets the road is in local leadership. And in county leadership in particular there is all of the challenge and very little of the glamour that goes with other roles in service, and I've so admired what you do, especially with your focus on transportation and on environmental justice. 

I'm delighted to be here with Secretary Kim, who is someone so widely respected in the community of transportation leaders. And I'll have a little more to say about this in a moment, but it's really remarkable the commitment that the state has made when it comes to the support for transportation in the budget.  

And to Representative Lieu, Representative Barragan, Representative Lowenthal, it is no exaggeration to say that thanks to your decision to support the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, there will be direct and major improvements in the economic vitality and the environmental sustainability of Southern California, and we are so thankful for your leadership, and for your support, in that regard. 

And lastly, to be with the Directors of the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach, Gene Seroka and Mario Cordero - in just the latest of our engagements. We were together virtually in July when I asked the West Coast ports and shipping and supply chain community to come together. We were together in October with President Adams and with President Biden at the White House. And we're together right now, not just talking about, but enacting the kinds of key problem-solving and solutions that are keeping goods moving to where they need to be.  

The simple reason that we're here is every gift under a tree, every piece of clothing somebody is wearing, even the devices on which these remarks will be played – chances are they came here on a container through a port like this one, on ships like these, unloaded and transported by workers like those that that President Adams and Ron Herrera represent. 

Supply chains are human. Supply chains are people who use equipment in order to get goods to where they need to be.  

And there's no better place to talk about that than here, where we see the number one and number two largest container ports in the country, supporting so many jobs, not just around the region, but around the country.  

When there is an issue affecting ports here, you will feel it as far away as my Indiana hometown. And I'll tell you the strains that we've experienced are not because the ports became less capable or because the workers delivered less output. In fact, the reverse is true, as was mentioned earlier. One of the reasons why Christmas was not, in fact, canceled, is that ports like L.A. and Long Beach moved record levels of goods, allowing an all-time record high in terms of retail sales this holiday season. Considering the pressures that this country and this community, these communities, have been under, that is an extraordinary achievement.  

Ports here processed 14% more containers than the previous record. People received almost 99% of their packages on time or with minimal delays from major shippers. And I would add that not only is this about presents under the tree, but this is about essential goods like medical goods that are needed in this moment of continued public health challenge.  

Now, we're going to continue to see challenges. So we're very proud of what was achieved here. But the other side of the coin is that as long as the pandemic persists, as long as we are making up for decades of past disinvestment, we are going to see impacts on shipping times and shipping costs. But that's exactly why we're here - not waiting one minute to address supply chain disruptions.  

Now supply chains are owned and operated by a lot of different actors - most of them private sector, and rightly so. But we have been partnering with everybody who has a hand in that in order to make sure we deliver results. We're partnering with the State of California, and I'm delighted to team up with Governor Newsom on the Emerging Projects Agreements that will lead to a fast track for access to financing of over $5 billion for infrastructure projects that bear on our supply chains.  

And I'm looking forward to working with Governor Newsom on the major investments that were proposed and rolled out yesterday in transportation, including in supply chain infrastructure, in the California State budget. Everything goes better when states and local leaders and the federal government are working together.  

We've partnered with the Department of Transportation, with Port Envoy John Porcari, and with the ports leading the way on 24/7 operations, on fees that help to motivate shippers to move their products more quickly, on ways to prioritize medical supplies - cutting sometimes by weeks the amount of time that life-saving supplies got to where they were needed. 

And the results include an almost 50 percent reduction in long-dwelling containers on the docks going into the holidays, record levels of goods on shelves, cargo leaving the ports and getting to people significantly faster.  

We're also very supportive of the new system that keeps the ships further at sea in order to reduce the impact on air quality. Although I want to note this does not, does not, mean that the issue has been solved. It’s not just how many ships can you see, it's how many ships are on their way. And that's what we're trying to make sure we clear the way for going forward. 

But as I see and saw during our tour earlier and our conversation – the intention, the vision for the future that's going on, the attention to environmental justice and making sure that more throughput does not necessarily mean more pollution for nearby communities, the attention to training and the funding commitments you've heard about to make sure that these jobs (which are only going to become more high-tech and more high-skill each passing year) are supported with investments in our human capital – I am very confident that the visionary leadership here, coupled with the visionary leadership from President Biden and this Administration, will deliver a better future for all of us, and with Southern California in so many ways leading the way.  

And we're going to be there to help. We just recently were able to announce that $52 million commitment to help with on-dock rail for the Port of Long Beach.  

And that was with the funds that we had last year. I cannot wait to put to work the funds from that $17 billion being committed to ports thanks to that Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  

So nothing about this will be easy, but everything about this can make us proud, because of the partnership, because of the teamwork, because of the commitment, and because of the will to make the investments that America has needed for a very long time. And there's no better way, no better place, to showcase that than right here at LA and Long Beach.