U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on Tuesday to promote record-setting cargo volumes while vowing to address potential anticompetitive behavior in the container markets.
“There’s no question that when you have a scarcity of access to shipping, you’re going to see upward pressure on prices, and that’s going to be part of our challenge when it comes to inflation,” Buttigieg told a gathering of port officials and lawmakers at the Port of Long Beach.
“When there’s actual wrongdoing, there will be vigorous enforcement. That is something that anytime the administration sees it, the president has directed there be action. And that’s true on anything from evidence of gas price gouging to anything affecting goods.”
Buttigieg has been under pressure — particularly from political adversaries — to be more visible around the country in explaining the administration’s strategies for getting out from under the supply chain crisis that still includes a huge backlog of ships waiting to dock and unload at West Coast ports.
He was eager to talk about recent progress he sees in working through those backlogs.
“One of 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 said. “Considering the pressures this country and these communities have been under, that is an extraordinary achievement.”
Buttigieg pointed out that the port complex processed 14% more container volume in 2021 than the previous record, and that the nation’s consumers received almost 99% of packages on time or with minimal delays.
“Not only is this about presents under the tree, but essential goods like medical goods needed in this moment of continued public health challenges. 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.”
To counter those impacts, Buttigieg, along with LA and Long Beach port directors Gene Seroka and Mario Cordero, touted recent and future investment at the ports. In late December DOT’s Maritime Administration announced a $52.3 million grant to support an on-dock rail project at the port of Long Beach. The grant was part of a $241 million package of 25 port projects awarded in 19 states.
“And that was with the funds that we had from last year,” Buttigieg said. “I cannot wait to put to work the funds from that $17 billion being committed to ports thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law,” also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed by President Joe Biden in November.
LA, Long Beach, and other California ports will benefit from an additional $1.2 billion over two years based on a budget proposal released this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The money will be used for projects that “improve goods movement on rail and roadways at port terminals, including rail yard expansions, new bridges and zero-emission modernization projects,” according to a budget summary.
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