President Barack Obama is dispatching his chief of staff to Minnesota’s Iron Range to see firsthand the impact the ongoing global glut of iron and steel is having on the state’s mining industry and its workers.
Denis McDonough is scheduled to meet with mining industry executives, local elected officials and laid-off steelworkers at Range Technical and Community College in Virginia Dec. 22.
Other details of the visit haven’t yet been hammered out.
Minnesota’s taconite iron mining industry has been hit with nearly 2,000 layoffs in 2015 thanks to a huge drop in the demand of taconite iron ore, the primary ingredient in steel made in blast furnaces. That’s because demand is way down for U.S.-made steel due to cheap foreign steel folding the U.S. market.
McDonough’s visit was announced late Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Minnesota Democrats, as well as Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby.
Klobuchar said she pushed for the visit to show the administration how serious the situation is, saying she hopes the visit spurs a “solutions-based discussion” of the problem.
“The man who has the president’s ear every day is going to see firsthand the devastating impact this global situation is having on Minnesota miners,” Klobuchar told the News Tribune.
Officials say nearly one-third of all steel used in the U.S. is now imported, while domestic steel mills are running at just 70 percent capacity. Industry analysts predict the situation to worsen in 2016, with new iron ore mines further flooding the global market, reducing prices and encouraging foreign steelmakers to keep churning out product.
Seven of the 11 major iron ore operations on the Iron Range are shut down or about to close in the worst economic crisis on the Iron Range since the 1980s.
Klobuchar said the Obama administration has the power to better enforce illegal steel imports into the U.S.
“We need stepped-up enforcement so we can turn away some of these ships before they ever unload their steel in our ports,” Klobuchar said. “Best of all, we’d like to see a ban on all steel imports. But, until then, there are other things we can do. We have to make it easier for the president to take the illegal dumping cases and get results. It’s still taking too long.”
Klobuchar, Dayton, Franken and Nolan have been pushing for weeks for the administration to act, including meeting at the White House.
“Minnesota steelworkers urgently need help from the administration in Washington,” Dayton said in a statement, adding that the administration must “do everything possible to fight back against the illegal dumping of foreign steel.”
Franken said the state’s mining industry “has been shaken by foreign competitors who are flooding American markets with illegally-dumped steel. The Northland is struggling, and we need action.”
McDonough, 46, is a Stillwater, Minn., native. He had previously served as deputy national security advisor before becoming chief of staff in 2013.