Like Mr. Smith, Portage steelworker Michael Young went to Washington.

The president of United Steelworkers Local 6103 appeared before the International Trade Commission last week, urging them to leave longstanding tariffs against Japanese steel products in place to protect the American steel industry.

"I told them what I've seen at the mill, how devastating it was," he said. "I told them about all the bankruptcies we had and how steelworkers aren't just grunts who stand around a furnace and sweat to death. It's a job that requires a lot of precision, a lot of measurement, math and chemistry. It's very difficult work."

Young, along with representatives from ArcelorMittal USA and U.S. Steel, lobbied for the renewal of 24 percent anti-dumping tariffs that were imposed on tin and chrome plated steel from Japan back in 2000, and come up for renewal every five years. He, for instance, told them about all the cost cutting to make the mills more efficient since the duties were first levied.

The Japanese imports came at a time when 58 U.S. steelmakers went out of business, leaving only two companies in charge of the big integrated mills that ring Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana.

"Northwest Indiana used to have 100,000 steelworkers across five different companies," Young said. "Whole cities sprung up around steel mills. We can't turn our back on the steel industry. It's too ingrained."

The administration is further considering tariffs of 25 percent on all steel products from abroad. That would be on top of the 191 existing tariffs on steel products, including on chrome and tin products from Japan. Young said the renewal is especially important since Japan potentially could be excluded from the Section 232 tariffs since it's a major ally and trade partner.

"If they lift the tariffs, they're just going to dump like they did before," Young said. "Their biggest customer is Mexico, so it wouldn't take too much of an effort to send it just north of there."

Much is at stake for Northwest Indiana in the case. Young estimates tin and chrome account for about half the output at U.S. Steel's Midwest Plant in Portage, and that such products also are made at Gary Works, East Chicago Tin and both ArcelorMittal mills on the lakefront.

"We're the richest country in the world," he said. "Everyone's interested in our market."

The tariffs expire in late April. The Japanese steel industry has spoken out against any duties.

"Maintaining the principle of free trade is vital for sustainable economic growth and that principle should be fully respected," Japan Iron and Steel Federation President Kosei Shindo said in a statement.

The four-member ITC is expected to take a vote by April 14.