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HOBART — A legal requirement the U.S. military buy American-made steel to build tanks, ships and submarines nearly lapsed, but Congressman Pete Visclosky restored it.

As the ranking member of the subcommittee on Defense, Visclosky reinstated the requirement that the U.S. Department of Defense can only buy American steel and not any imports from foreign competitors, his Chief of Staff Mark Lopez told an Association for Iron and Steel Technology gathering at Avalon Manor on Thursday.

The Department of Defense had requested the removal of Buy America provisions, but Visclosky successfully worked with fellow Representatives to ensure it remained in the final appropriations bill, and also got an amendment passed that Buy America rules apply to projects funded by EPA Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds.

"We all read on the issues facing the steel industry," Lopez said. "It's moving in the right direction, but steelmakers are still operating at a loss. Mills are still being idled. Workers are still being laid off."

Lopez blamed the steel industry's woes on 700 million tons of global overcapacity and overseas state-owned manufacturers that are willing to sell at a loss in the short term to gain market share in the long term by driving competitors out of business.

"Bloomberg news reported China plans to address overcapacity," he said. "Of course, they also promised to address currency manipulation."

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A healthy domestic steel industry is essential to the nation's self-defense, Lopez said. But imports have seriously affected steel prices and its health.

"A free and fair market can only exist if there's a level playing field," he said. "We're not asking for a free handout, just to protect our domestic manufacturing capability."

Congress scored two major legislative victories, Lopez said. The federal government now can quickly input real-world market conditions to quickly assess damage by illegal trade, while the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency can crack down on steel dumpers that duck anti-dumping and countervailing duties.

Visclosky is focused on ensuring the law gets enforced, Lopez said. He also plans to testify during trade cases on illegally dumped hot-rolled, cold-rolled and corrosion-resistant steel, the results of which are expected this summer.

"Companies and countries are violating our trade laws," Lopez said. "There continues to be an influx of illegal steel."

Trade cases and new legislation seems to be having an impact after imports captured a record 29 percent market share this year. The American Iron and Steel Institute estimates imports have dropped by 40 percent so far in 2016.

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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.