Can Anyone 'Bring Back' Steel And Coal To The 'Burgh?

Apr 20, 2016

Could bringing steel and coal back to the Steel City solve economic and industrial woes?  GOP front-runner Donald Trump captured Pittsburgh’s attention when he announced his commitment to bringing back such manufacturing to the region during his recent campaign stop.  But is this legitimately possible?

Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers is not convinced.  He says the statement was just another one of Trump’s ploys to cater to the city he is visiting. Gerard notes that many of Trump’s businesses are built with foreign steel and his products are often imported or created overseas.

“He has had no allegiance to domestic manufacturing,” says Gerard. “All of a sudden, he thinks he’s going to be able to fool us by pretending he’s got a new-found concern for us.”

Larry Schweiger, chief executive officer for the environmental advocacy group PennFuture expresses a similar lack of faith in Trump’s statement.  He argues for efficiency in using gas, wind and solar power, rather than “rolling back to coal” to compete with foreign industries.

“The game is changing very rapidly and I think Mr. Trump is behind the times on that one,” says Schweiger.

Because of the ability for companies to import cheap steel from abroad, the whole of the domestic manufacturing company has been put at risk.

According to Gerard, by Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) standards, there is a domestic content requirement.  As long as 45 percent of product comes from one or more of the TPP countries, it can enter the United States duty-free.

“We have an absolutely unfair arrangement with China and other countries, and the new trade agreement will actually make that worse,” Schweiger says.

In regard to the issue of fair trade with the steel industry, Schweiger suggests we hold countries like China accountable for its record of underpaying and mistreating workers while harming the environment by sintering iron ore.  By ignoring some of these basic industry standards, China isn’t spending as much money, giving them an advantage in the marketplace.

“If we really want to have fair trade, it has to include both environmental and labor concerns,” Schweiger says.

Schweiger says that while Pittsburgh has grown as a hub for technology, medicine, investment and research, there is still room for clean industrial work in our region.  In order to compete, steel mills must modernize facilities to meet industry standards once again.

“Our industry is not reinvesting because it’s the unfair competition that’s going on in the world,” says Schweiger.

According to Gerard, there is a way to have both a healthy environment and job growth.  By reworking infrastructure with domestically made products, the United States has ample opportunity to compete in the global steel industry.

“Our steel industry is the most environmentally sound on the planet,” Gerard says.

Schweiger calls for a more aware American public, including an understanding that climate change is not a hoax.

“Our political leaders need to understand that the world is changing rapidly and we do need to change in order to stay ahead of it.  We don’t have the jobs of the future if we don’t invest in the future.”

The State of Manufacturing in Pittsburgh

While some have downplayed the role manufacturing plays in the Steel City, Bill Flanagan, chief corporate relations officer for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, says the manufacturing of steel still plays a significant role in Pittsburgh's economy. Bill Flanagan joins us to consider questions raised in the wake of GOP presidential front runner Donald Trump's visit.  

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