The BP Whiting Refinery sits right next to two steel mills: U.S. Steel's East Chicago Tin, and ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor in East Chicago, which is often described as "the largest steelmaking complex in North America" and is actually two steel mills consolidated under one owner.

Gary Works, the largest individual steel mill in the country, lies a few miles down the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Despite being just down the street from several steel mills, the BP Whiting Refinery is asking the federal government for an exemption to the Section 232 tariffs of 25 percent on foreign-made steel that are intended to protect the American steel industry.


The BP Whiting Refinery is asking for tariffs to be waived on types of pipe of specific dimensions it says are not manufactured anywhere in the United States. BP is trying to buy it from Japan and is asking the federal government for a break on the duties that would increase the purchase price by 25 percent.

Its requests are pending.

A study by the Associated Press found 370 companies across the country have been granted more than 16,000 exemptions to the 25 percent steel tariffs and 10 percent aluminum tariffs. About 31,000 are still pending.

The Section 232 tariffs that were billed as across-the-board on all foreign steel have actually been porous in practice.

About 75 percent of the companies requesting tariff waivers — including heavyweights like Lincoln Electric, Union Pacific Railroad, Milwaukee Electric Tool and Stanley Black & Decker — get them, including those trying to import from China or who are subsidiaries of Chinese companies. 

Many companies say the steel they need is not manufactured in the United States or is hard to come by, while others seek to reduce costs by importing cheaper metal from abroad.

The Associated Press estimates that 3.85 million tons of steel has been exempted since the Section 232 tariffs were imposed last May – about what the U.S. steel industry produces in two weeks on average – including more than 330,000 tons of Chinese-made steel, or about half as much as Northwest Indiana's steel mills crank out in a week.

Some of the steel products companies are seeking tariff exemptions on are made at Gary Works and ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor in East Chicago, but the firms seeking tariff exemptions claim the special products they need are scarce and hard to source from those mills because they are not produced in large enough quantities to meet demand.

In Indiana, 35 companies have secured 916 tariff exemptions with only 356 denials, a success rate of 72.1 percent, according to the government data crunched by the Associated Press. Another 761 requests are pending.

In the first Congressional district, which encompasses much of Northwest Indiana, five companies have requested 179 tariff exemptions. So far, 153 have been denied, 26 remain pending, and none have been granted.

B Metals in Lake County has requested a tariff waiver on German and Japanese imports of a chromium coated steel that it says "U.S. mills are unable to produce." NLMK Indiana in Portage, which is Russian owned, is pursuing tariff exemptions on Russian imports of semifinished products of iron or nonalloy steel it says are "insufficiently available" in the United States.

Josam Company, a LaPorte manufacturer that makes industrial drain and plumbing fixtures, has sought dozens of tariff waivers on various stainless steel products it claims it cannot buy in the United States, or that would increase its costs by "over 100 percent should a U.S. producer establish the capacity and the quality requirements." Most of its requests have been denied but a few remain pending.


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.