U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan wants to ban foreign steel for 5 years to help ailing Iron Range

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Minnesota Congressman Rick Nolan has proposed a fairly drastic plan to help the struggling U.S. steel industry – he wants to ban the import of foreign steel for five years.

Nolan, a Democrat, represents Minnesota's 8th District which includes the Iron Range. The mining companies on the Range have been going through tough economic times as the price of steel has fallen.

The Duluth News Tribune notes that seven of Minnesota's 11 major mining operations have closed or are about to close, meaning more than 1,500 workers have been laid off in the past several months.

In a news release Monday, Nolan laid the blame for the steel industry's problems on a glut of foreign steel in the U.S. caused by the "dumping of millions of tons of low-grade, foreign government-subsidized steel" by China, India and other southeast Asian countries.

Nolan said steel imports increased by 36 percent last year, while American steel mills are only running at 70 percent of capacity.

He argues that a five-year ban on imported steel would give U.S. companies time to regain market share and get back to operating at 100 percent capacity.

Nolan also blames the federal government for not being tough enough to stop the flood of foreign steel entering the U.S.

“The United States has proven itself incapable of enforcing trade agreements, and incapable of stopping illegal dumping of foreign steel once it reaches our shores. So we need a moratorium on foreign steel," he said.

The steel industry got a victory earlier this year when the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that several countries were illegally dumping steel in the U.S. market, and those actions were harming American steel companies, according to the News Tribune.

Minnesota's U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, introduced a bill last week that would give the federal government the authority to act more quickly to enforce trade laws. Nolan said he will introduce a companion measure in the House.

Debate over special session

On the state level, Gov. Dayton is calling for a special legislative session to extend unemployment benefits to roughly 600 steelworkers who would otherwise see their benefits run out. The Legislature's next regular session doesn't begin until March. 

Fellow DFLer and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, who represents part of the Iron Range, agrees.

But Republican legislative leaders have said they won't go along with a special session unless Dayton also agrees to provisions that could speed up the approval process for a copper mine PolyMet hopes to develop on the Iron Range, as well as the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline that would run across northern Minnesota. 

At a news conference Monday, Dayton called the Republican leaders' demands "disappointing," the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

Dayton said House Speaker Kurt Daudt and others showed a "lack of sensitivity" to the Iron Range workers who are facing the loss of their unemployment benefits.

In a statement, Daudt said any discussion about unemployment on the Iron Range "must include a conversation about job-creating projects like mining and pipelines," according to the Pioneer Press.

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