Steel has once again become a big issue in U.S. trade policy. Many steel companies around the Midwest are worried about ‘steel dumping’ and are urging President Bush to support new tariffs and quotas on imported steel. But some steel users say the Bush Administration should back off. How the President handles the issue could affect both jobs and the environment in the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:


Steel has once again become a big issue in United States trade policy. Many steel companies around the Midwest are worried about steel dumping and are urging President Bush to support new tariffs and quotas on imported steel. But some steel users say the Bush administration should back off. How the president handles the issue could affect both jobs and the environment in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports.

The amount of commonly used types of foreign steel coming into the United States has risen about a third over the last five years, and a federal trade panel ruled recently that much of that imported steel is being sold here at a price lower than what it cost to make it and ship it here. That’s a practice called dumping. The trade panel found that such dumping poses a serious threat to domestic steel makers. So the panel says President Bush should slap tariffs on many product lines of foreign-made steel to raise the prices of the imports. But that’s not such a hot idea to some other industries, which use plenty of foreign steel.

(furnace/factory ambient sound)

Here at the Engel Tool and Forge Company in Milwaukee…this second-generation family business now uses about 600 tons a year of steel imported from countries like Brazil and Sweden. In the warm and grimy forging area, workers use a robot to move five foot long steel bars that have been heated to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. Owner chuck Engel watches the orange and white-hot bars enter a machine

“That’s a preforming press …a hydraulic press that preforms the metal. It’s removed from there and moved into a finished form that we gain our finished desired shape.” (WHAM noise)

The bars are scrunched into wheel axles that’ll be shipped to heavy equipment makers in the mining or construction industries. Engel says his company is doing all right during the recession. So he’s says he strongly opposed to the president possibly tinkering with that success by slapping higher tariffs on imported steel.

“I am sure there is a certain amount of unfairness on both sides of the fence but I believe that competition should be what sorts this problem out rather than the government.”

Engel contends domestic steel makers got quote- fat and sassy — over the last twenty years…and he says mergers, downsizing and other changes now taking place among domestic manufacturers will help them compete in the world steel market. Engel says if steel tariffs do go up…he’d have to pass along the price hikes. But other players are urging President Bush to approve higher steel tariffs. The United Steelworkers of America hopes the president even goes beyond what the trade panel recommends. Some environmentalists are also quietly supporting the domestic steel industry. That’s even though green groups have a track record of battling steel manufacturers. Cameron Davis of the Chicago-based lake Michigan federation acknowledges big steel has a dirty history in the area.

“Well traditionally, the steel industry especially in northwest Indiana has been responsible for a fair amount of pollution in the Great Lakes…and that’s air-based pollution, water based pollution, land based pollution across the board.”

But lately environmentalists have been trying to forge alliances with unions like the steelworkers. And Davis notes that environmental lawsuits and other changes have gotten domestic steel makers to start cleaning up their act in recent years. He says if nothing is done to slow the rise in steel imports that could make the United States environment worse. Davis cites the aquatic nuisance species that tag along in the ballast water of foreign ships…including presumably, the ships that bring in foreign steel.

“Without some help in protecting the GL steel industry, we’ll see more and more foreign steel coming into the country. And with that foreign steel probably more aquatic nuisance species that will do more damage not only to the Great Lakes but to rest of country.”

United States flagged Great Lakes shipping companies that haul iron ore from Minnesota and northern Michigan are also siding with the domestic steel makers. George Ryan is president of the Lake Carriers Association. He says if the domestic steel industry keeps getting hurt by foreign imports…there might be some local improvements like less air pollution emitted over Gary or Cleveland, but Ryan says, what about the rest of the globe.

“For anyone who has seen photographs from outer space, we have one world that moves the air around to all parts of the world we can’t really say we condone dirty air in Brazil and in China and okay to do it there cause we’re protecting our air in the United States.”

Ryan is a member of the Great Lakes Commission…which is urging the president and congress to boost steel exports and reduce unfair competition from abroad. Commissioners do the bidding of eight Great Lakes governors…most of whom are republicans like George W. Bush. If the president does not do more to protect United States steel makers and jobs that could be an issue in the gubernatorial and congressional elections next November. Mr. Bush has to announce his plans on steel tariffs and quotas by mid-February. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium this is Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

Ships May Freeze Before Lakes Do

The National Weather Service’s end of season freeze-up forecast for the
Great Lakes is out. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson
reports that even though the outlook is mild for the rest of December
and January…all is not sunny in the shipping forecast: