U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg visited the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach today for a boat tour followed by a press conference during which he discussed the efforts to address the ongoing supply chain crisis that has gripped the facilities for more than a year.
Buttigieg began his day meeting with port and labor leaders at the USS Iowa to discuss upcoming projects at the ports, according to a pool report. The secretary then boarded a Harbor Breeze catamaran along with an entourage consisting of mayors, county supervisors, labor leaders, members of Congress and more for a tour of the twin ports before docking at the Port of Long Beach.
During the press conference, Buttigieg touted efforts being made at the local, state and federal level to alleviate the issues within the supply chain, including a large influx of money for infrastructure and other investments.
“When there is an issue affecting ports here, you will feel it as far away as my Indiana hometown,” Buttigieg said. “This is not only about presents under the tree, but essential goods, like medical goods, that are needed in this moment of continued public health.”
The secretary did not unveil any new initiatives during his remarks but highlighted several funding opportunities aimed at improving the resilience of the nation’s supply chain, including a partnership with the state to fast track $5 billion in financing for port-related infrastructure projects, $17 billion in funding for ports as part of the Biden administration’s historic infrastructure bill and the more than $52 million in federal funding recently announced for the Port of Long Beach’s Pier B On-Dock Support Facility.
Buttigieg’s visit comes the day after Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposed budget, which included $1.2 billion for the state’s ports for infrastructure projects such as bridges, rail yard expansion and zero-emission modernization.
More than a dozen officials spoke during the press conference, including County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn. Both supervisors pushed for the future electrification of port operations as well as increased rail.
“While the rest of the country counts on our ports to make sure their flatscreen TV is in stock for Christmas, the communities I represent bear the burden of the congestion, the air pollution,” Hahn said, noting billions of dollars have been allocated for a national network of electric vehicle charging stations.
“This is about the future of charging zero-emission electric trucks … and helping us to once and for all destroy the diesel death zone,” Hahn added, using the name given by environmental and public health advocates to the area along the 710 Freeway.
In an effort to alleviate some of the environmental impacts of the backlog of ships waiting off the coast for their turn to dock, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, Pacific Maritime Association and the Marine Exchange of Southern California developed a new queuing system for vessels. The result has been the dramatic reduction of ships loitering within 40 miles of the coast from a record 86 on Nov. 16 to 14 as of Tuesday.
“This does not mean the issue has been solved,” Buttigieg said. “It’s not just how many ships you see, it’s how many ships are on their way.”
The true backlog of ships remains at unprecedented levels. A total of 103 vessels—two less than the record-setting 105 reported Friday—are backed up at the port, the Marine Exchange reports. The figure includes 89 ships that are anchored farther out at sea or slow speed steaming toward the twin ports.
Port officials and Rep. Alan Lowenthal said that decades of underinvestment in the San Pedro Bay ports allowed the supply chain to falter under the extreme circumstances and demand brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the pitfalls, however, the ports moved a combined 20 million 20-foot equivalent units—the standard measure of a shipping container—in 2021, the most in the ports’ history.
Buttigieg praised the efforts of the ports, which have included examining a transition to 24/7 operations and announcing fees to motivate shippers to get cargo off the docks more quickly. A fee for containers sitting on dock for extended periods was announced in October but the ports have yet to charge violators, having postponed it nine times citing improvements.
The cooperation between officials at the local, state and federal level to take on the supply chain issues at the San Pedro Bay ports is unlike anything he has seen across the country, Buttigieg said.
“I am very confident that the visionary leadership here, coupled with the visionary leadership from President Biden and his administration, will deliver a better future for all of us,” Buttigieg said. “Nothing about this will be easy, but everything about this can make us proud because of the partnership, the teamwork, the commitment and because of the will to make the investments that America has needed for a very long time.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest figures from the Marine Exchange of Southern California.