Top steel executives visited Washington, D.C., to call on Congress to help make the industry more globally competitive.
Industry leaders, including ArcelorMittal USA President and CEO Mike Rippey and U.S. Steel President and CEO Mario Longhi, testified at a House Steel Caucus hearing Tuesday. They lobbied for the the U.S. to enforce trade rules, reduce energy costs and invest in infrastructure.
Rippey, Longhi and other executives told Congress a variety of federal policies had to be reformed to protect jobs and ensure international competitiveness. They expressed concern about how finished steel imports have increased by 15 percent over the first two months of the year, capturing 25 percent of the overall market.
Tubular steel products, used to extract oil and natural gas, are being dumped in the United States at prices below market value, in violation of international trade laws, Longhi testifed.
"As the American economy and our energy and critical infrastructure demands rebounded, American steel companies spent billions of dollars to improve (oil country tubular goods) facilities across the country," Longhi said.
Finished steel exports account for a chunk of the market that is unacceptably high, especially since U.S. steelmaking facilities are running at only 77 percent capacity, Rippey said.
The domestic steel industry is huge, employing 152,900 workers at more than 100 facilities nationwide, and producing $75 billion worth of products, he testified. The industry directly or indirectly supports more than 1 million U.S. jobs.
But the steel market was flat last year. More investment in bridges, roads, rails and ports would boost demand for steel, Rippey said. Upgrades are also needed, because the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation's infrastructure a grade of D+ and said an additional $200 billion would have to be spent a year to get roads, bridges and rail lines up to standard.
"I was just in Japan last week and it is obvious that Japan has made infrastructure investment a top priority," Rippey testified.
"Believe me, the average Japanese isn't spending $1,000 repairing his car because he hit a pothole. Japan has spent about $2 trillion since 1990 and is planning to invest over $100 billion more in new infrastructure and upgrades over the next 15 months. What these countries also understand is that infrastructure investment means jobs."
Industry also depends on roads, rails and waterways to ensure it can ship its products to customers who have just-in-time demands, Rippey said. The steel industry needs large amounts of iron ore, coal, scrap and limestone, but they are shipped through waterways where more than half of the 240 locks are over 50 years old and have exceeded their design life.
"Much arrives via the Great Lakes, where only one Coast Guard heavy ice breaker is available to open the vital shipping channel between iron ore mines and steel mills," he said.
"Two-thirds of the iron ore fleet depends on one lock system, which went into service in 1969. That lock opens for the season today, but with so much of the Great Lakes still covered with ice, we do not know when iron ore will be able to make its way to our plants."
U.S.Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, vice chairman of the steel caucus, echoed the call for more infrastructure investment. He cited the expansion of the South Shore Rail Line as the sort of transportation project needed to strengthen the steel industry, which he described as the backbone of the American manufacturing base.
Such investments are vital economically, and not just because of the temporary construction jobs they would create, Visclosky testified.
"Between 1970 and 2012, the population of Lake County fell by 9.6 percent, the median income decreased by 15.3 percent, and the median age increased by 43 percent," he said. "The result is that we are fewer, poorer, and older. By providing a robust transportation infrastructure system that is connected to Chicago, we will increase our ability to access the city's $500 billion economy and 4 million jobs. We will then begin to draw that economic vibrancy to our region."