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United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Leadership Conference

Draft Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
United Brotherhood of Carpenters, “Leadership Conference”
Las Vegas, NV
Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017

Thank you, President [Doug] McCarron for that introduction.  I am pleased to join you for this leadership Conference, here in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ International Training Center.

I want to pause a moment to remember the lost loved ones, the wounded, the survivors, and the grieving left behind by the senseless criminal shooting rampage on Sunday night.  Our thoughts are with all of them. 

This has been a challenging year.  Our hearts are also with those who have endured the devastation of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria.  I visited Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey with Vice President Pence. The devastation was difficult to describe.  But the outpouring of help, determination and the spirit of Texans were so inspiring! The Department has released $25 million in immediate emergency relief to Texas and Florida, as well as $2.5 million for Puerto Rico and $2 million for the Virgin Islands.  MARAD has dispatched 4 ships to provide power, food, clean water and berthing for first responders and emergency workers.  And just last week I released an additional $40 million to Puerto Rico for needed relief, at the governor’s request.  DOT has been operating an emergency command center 24/7.  In addition, many DOT employees have volunteered for additional relief duties.    The President is in Puerto Rico today.  He will visit Las Vegas tomorrow to help comfort survivors and the grieving.

Private citizens and organizations have been helping the process of recovery.  I heard that your Central South Carpenters Regional Council is collecting relief supplies for distribution at local training centers, and has activated its relief fund to help members impacted by the hurricanes. So thank you, for everything you are doing—your expertise and skills will be especially important as we rebuild.

As some of you may remember, this is not my first visit to a Carpenters Training Center.  As Secretary of Labor, I joined President McCarron to celebrate Labor Day at the Carpenters training centers in Kaukauna [Ca-caw-nah], Wisconsin in 2001, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2002, and Louisville, Kentucky in 2006.   And I visited this facility again in 2002 for an International Women’s Conference.  It was impressive then-- but look at it now!

This center, its instructors and its students are key to providing the skills needed to help rebuild America.  With 1.2 million square feet-- including conference areas, 300 guest rooms, 70 classrooms, and dining facilities—it is state of the art! The new West Building and South Shop is a noteworthy addition.  The center will provide skills and leadership training for more than 15,000 UBC members in 2017.  That’s a tremendous contribution to our country, and an investment in the future of America’s hard-working families. 

The practical, hands-on training this center provides reminds when my sisters and I were growing up.  We would follow my father around the house while he fixed things, helping him carry the tool box.  Over time, my sisters and I became pretty skilled at making repairs around the house.  My father believed we should know how to do these things ourselves.  One of those projects, when we finally moved into a house of our own, was paving the driveway.  He bought the proper equipment and we paved the whole thing ourselves!  It’s still in pretty good shape, so I guess we did a good job.  So you see, I was once an apprentice myself!

President McCarron and I have worked well on key issues.  President McCarron joined me at the Department of Labor headquarters in 2004 to induct Peter McGuire into the Labor Hall of Fame.  As you know, Peter McGuire fought for the 8 hour day, safer working conditions, better pay, and brought together independent unions to form the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.  And, he is credited with being the first to suggest Labor Day as a national holiday way back in 1882.  Hopefully, the Labor Hall of Fame will help educate more people about the legacy he left for all American workers.

President McCarron and the UBC have shown leadership in many ways.  As part of The Alliance for a Drug-Free Workplace or investing in marketable skills, President McCarron and his team are helping build a better future for those in the skilled trades.

I am reminded of a visit to the carpenters training facility in Baton Rouge during 2006.  There, carpenters were being trained as second responders following natural disasters.  The Department of Labor had just awarded the Carpenters union a $1 million grant for disaster relief training, and I wanted to stop by and say hello to the members and the trainers.   That investment in training is going to pay off in the coming years as Florida, Texas, other hard-hit areas rebuild after Harvey, Irma and Maria.  

As we move forward, let me share some of the latest developments from Washington that could help ensure greater access to opportunities for the skilled trades.  Currently, this Administration is working on a proposal to rebuild and revitalize our country’s infrastructure.  The Administration’s proposal includes $1 trillion over ten years in spending with $200 billion in direct federal money.  It will cover roads, bridges, tunnels, waterways, airports, water supplies, power transmission, broad band and even healthcare in veterans’ hospitals.

A key part of the plan is eliminating the unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks and delays that are holding up the delivery of new infrastructure for years, even decades. 

Let me mention just a few stories that illustrate the urgent need for change.  In 1936, it took only five years to complete the Hoover Dam, which, as you know, is not too far from here. It was one of the greatest infrastructure projects of the 20th century.  By comparison, DOT recently announced the opening of an additional runway at the Taos, New Mexico airport.  It took 19 years to complete because of the permitting and approval process.  And I recently returned from Alaska, where the Department was finally able to clear the way for a road that provides, among other things, year-round access to medical care for a small community.  It took 35 years to get the approval!   And replacing the Bonner Bridge in the Outer Banks of North Carolina took 26 years!  Nine of those years were spent resolving a conflict over right of way with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  With all due respect to any affected fish or wildlife, this is just too long! 

So when I saw your posters and shirts with the slogan, “More Projects - Less Paperwork!” I couldn’t agree with you more! 

In fact, on August 15, 2017, the White House issued a new executive order to speed things up.  It fast tracks and centralizes federal-decision making on infrastructure. The new process is called One Federal Decision. It requires that decision making for each major infrastructure project be centralized under one federal department.  Permits must be issued within 90 days of a Record of Decision.  In addition, all federal environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects must be completed within two years. This will improve environmental outcomes by delivering infrastructure improvements more quickly, and spending resources on actual environmental mitigation, rather than stacks of paperwork. 

The Department has established a Task Force on Regulatory Reform that has identified additional legislative and regulatory changes to streamline project approval.  Just yesterday the Department was able to announce that since the fall of 2016, its regulatory actions have decreased by more than one third, and its deregulatory actions have increased five-fold!   That is real progress.  And we will continue to make prudent, common sense reforms that will mean more projects and less paperwork!   That is our shared goal, and we are working hard every day to make it a reality for you, and for our country. 

So thank you again for inviting me to speak here today, President McCarren.  It is always a treat to visit with you and your members.  Infrastructure is the backbone of our country’s economy. It is key to increasing productivity and economic vitality, as well as improving our quality of life and creating good jobs.  Thank you for everything you are doing to build a brighter future for our country!

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Thursday, October 5, 2017
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