LONG BEACH, Calif. (CNS) — U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Tuesday to discuss progress being made to supply chain disruptions and the backlog of container vessels off the coast over recent months.
"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," Buttigieg said. "... One of the reasons why Christmas was not in fact canceled is that ports like LA and Long Beach moved record levels of goods, allowing an all-time record high in terms of retail sales this holiday season."
He added that as long as the coronavirus pandemic persists and the United States feels the effects of "decades of past disinvestment," shipping times and costs will be impacted. He said the Biden administration is working with port stakeholders and partners to mitigate the supply chain disruptions, including by moving the ports to 24/7 operations, enacting fees to incentivize shippers to move containers more quickly and prioritize medical supplies to cut the amount of time by weeks that it takes for life-saving supplies to get to their destination.
Buttigieg was taken on a boat tour Tuesday morning with elected officials and port representatives to each port, where he was updated on port operations and the status of Department of Transportation investments, including the new Long Beach International Gateway Bridge and a $52 million grant given to the Port of Long Beach last month to fund a rail facility.
Port of Long Beach Director Mario Cordero said the grant "is a significant statement" by the federal government.
"It supports the kind of far-reaching project that will move cargo faster, improve air quality, that brings the Port of Long Beach to a new league of connectivity and will benefit this region for decades to come," he said.
"Needless to say, we've experienced a crisis unlike anything in this century, whether it's a health pandemic and of course the impact on the supply chain. But like we like to say at the Port of Long Beach, in crisis, we build," he added.
Buttigieg held a news conference with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, county Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn, as well as members of Congress, port representatives, labor leaders and state officials. Officials focused on the progress being made by the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force in alleviating congestion at the port, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Emerging Ports Agreement aimed at improving the movement of goods in California in the future.
"Good infrastructure means good jobs — and that has always been the centerpiece of President Joe Biden's economic agenda," Solis said. "In particular, I applaud the president and Secretary Buttigieg's efforts in easing congestion at our ports and strengthening infrastructure throughout the county. With federal funding from the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, we will be able to make our infrastructure more resilient than ever before and provide good-paying, green jobs for those who need it the most."
In recent months, the San Pedro port complex has experienced a backlog of ships waiting to get into the port, prompting Biden on Oct. 13 to announce that the Port of Los Angeles would begin operating 24/7, a move that had already been made at the Port of Long Beach. At the time, there were about 70 ships waiting to get into one of the ports.
Representatives for the ports said Monday that there are 12 ships waiting at anchor within 40 miles of the complex and another 93 ships waiting farther off the coast or still approaching the ports.
The ports changed their queuing process, now allowing ships leaving Asia to get in line upon departure, which allows ships to no longer race to get to the ports and instead anchor outside the region's air quality basin as they wait for their turn to enter.
The ports also announced fees on companies that have import containers lingering at marine terminals, but the fee has been repeatedly delayed due to progress reducing the number of containers. On Monday, the ports announced a 45% combined decline in aging cargo since the fee was announced on Oct. 25. The policy to implement fees was developed in coordination with the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Port of Long Beach and supply chain stakeholders.
"We are a strong country and it is reflected here, where you see the source of one out of every 48 jobs in America come through these twin ports in this single harbor," Garcetti said, adding that "American competitiveness, know-how and the desire to rebuild this country is alive and well."