Other Voices: American Steel Is Key to Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ Agenda

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April 11 2021 |Pittsburgh Post Gazette

As our country begins to recover from a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, we’ll need our economy to be firing on all cylinders to “Build Back Better.” To get there, we’re going to need American-made steel.

Steel helped build Pittsburgh and our region’s economy. It’s also essential to our national security. From energy to infrastructure to defense, the sectors critical to U.S. national security depend on the viability of America’s steel industry.

For decades, global overcapacity and a surge of steel imports into the U.S. have hurt domestic steelmakers and the American workforce. With more supply than demand, steelmakers have flooded the U.S. market with cheaper and dirtier foreign steel.

This has undercut steel prices, U.S. steel production, jobs at American steel facilities and our steelmakers’ ability to invest in and expand facilities. According to one international economic organization, global excess steel capacity is nearly six times the size of the entire U.S. steel industry.

This isn’t just an economic threat — if the United States’ ability to produce steel is compromised, we will be forced to rely on foreign governments to support our nation’s critical infrastructure. It’s absolutely essential that our steel industry remains strong enough to produce the steel our country needs right here at home.

Though China is the largest culprit, steel overcapacity is a global problem and imports from all sources, including our closest allies in Europe and Asia, threaten the long-term viability of the domestic steel industry and our economic security.

In 2018, the U.S. determined that steel imports posed a significant threat to our national security and imposed tariffs under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act. These measures have been and continue to be effective, enhancing America’s national security and helping U.S. steelmakers increase output, hire more workers and make capital investments.

President Joe Biden recently came to Pittsburgh to unveil his infrastructure proposal, and the message from Steel City is clear: Keeping these measures in place is vital to our nation’s economic recovery, our national security and to the president’s “Build Back Better” agenda.

A new study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released last week affirms that these Section 232 steel tariffs are effective. Following their implementation, U.S. steel producers made new investments, upgrades, plant expansions and reopened idled facilities in at least 15 states. American steel producers created thousands of jobs and plan to invest more than $15.7 billion in new and upgraded facilities.

Critics of the Section 232 on steel like to claim it increased prices for downstream products. But don’t buy it. The new EPI study data show prices were unaffected across the broad array of industries that account for the vast majority of steel consumption and that steel tariffs had no measurable impact on downstream steel-consuming industries or material effects on consumer prices.

The Biden-Harris administration seems to recognize these measures are working. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was clear, stating recently, “Let me say those tariffs have been effective. The data show that those tariffs have been effective.” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has indicated tariffs are a “legitimate tool” when it comes to trade policy.

Now is not the time to walk away from the almost 2 million workers and families whose livelihoods rely on the steel industry, paying more than $130 billion in wages and benefits. Not with recovery in sight.

After all, the conditions that necessitated implementation of Section 232 measures have not gone away. The European steel industry has 25 million to 30 million tons of excess steel capacity. The largest Japanese steel producer conceded this month it needs to reduce Japanese capacity by roughly 20%.

American steel makers have operated safely during the pandemic and played a critical role in ensuring a reliable, resilient U.S. supply chain. Now, the U.S. steel industry is poised to help Mr. Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda. To do that, we need the administration to keep Section 232 steel measures in place, which are vital to our nation’s economic recovery and our national security.

Maury Burgwin is president of the Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce.

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