Four days after his inauguration President Trump signed an executive order that allows the controversial Keystone Pipeline project to proceed. Many Americans vehemently disagree with that decision but there was one small part of it that gave hope to a very small part of our country.
This blog does not pass judgment on Keystone but rather on a promise associated with it. When President Donald Trump signed that order he made a promise to use only American Steel and he made a pretty big deal of it.
Here’s what Trump said, “As I was about to sign the order I asked who would be manufacturing the pipe, simple question. The lawyers put this very complex document in front of me and I said, who makes the pipe? They said it could be made anywhere. I said, not anymore, so I put a little clause on the bottom: “The pipe has to be made in the United States of America if we’re going to have pipelines.”
The President has repeated that phrase many times since then but like so many of his other proclamations it wasn’t true. Perhaps Mr. Trump thinks that the lie will overshadow the inevitable truth that he lied. So, you might ask yourself, “Why is this important?”
Here’s why. I am a native of Chisholm on Minnesota’s Iron Range. You probably never heard of it but had it not been for that small part of this country we would not be the nation we are today and would have few of the necessities we depend on. The Iron Range is actually three ranges – the Cuyuna, Vermillion and Mesaba and they are home to rich veins of iron ore that provided most of the steel we used in two world wars and Korea. An area of fewer than 100,000 people produced the ore that was shipped to eastern steel mills to make the trucks and tanks and planes and bombs that won freedom for the world. One of the three ranges, the Mesabi, produced over 188 million tons of ore during the course of world war ll. Without the production we likely would not have won the war. Not only that, they produced the steel that can be found in your cars, trucks, girders that make buildings, re-bar in highways and a million other uses. So when Rangers heard the Trump promise, they took it seriously. After what these hearty people did for this nation, they believed the President owed them the truth and that he would honor his pledge.
This small area of Minnesota is beautiful in both summer and winter, it boasts thousands of lakes and every winter and summer activity you can imagine. It has often been called God’s country and that claim is hard to dispute.
The area has more than geographical beauty it also has untold riches in its vast, rich veins of iron ore. At one time the ore deposits were the richest in the world.
What made the area unique is that much of the ore was on the surface. While there was some underground mining it was not common. Men worked the surface with picks and shovels and they came from everywhere. The ore was taken from the ground by Italians, Swedes, Slavs, Poles, Finns, Irish and over 30 other ethnic groups that emigrated to America to build new lives. At first as with all mining, these brave men worked in horrible conditions and many died in the effort to get the ore out of the ground. Unions made things safer and the area developed some of the best school systems in the country that turned out leading physicians, scientists, engineers and others who became pillars of society and leaders in both government and industry. People took pride in being called “Rangers.”
Since that heyday when Iron range towns boomed and everyone had a job, the great mountains of ore were depleted and mining companies had to turn to taconite production. It is a lower grade ore that needs extra processing that costs a little more but is still the highest quality ore available. At the same time, though, lower cost steel from other countries has caused mines to close, jobs to disappear and the economy in that area to tumble into recession.
When I grew up, Chisholm was a bustling community of nearly 10,000 people with car dealers, movie theaters, department stores, pharmacies, flower shops, hotels, restaurants, liquor stores, supermarkets, and bars. We even had a city band that played in a small band shell on Saturday night on the corner of Central Avenue and Lake Street.
Today Chisholm has lost more than half its population and main street has very few of the businesses I mentioned earlier other than several bars. The band shell is gone, so is the band and many of the other buildings are empty or boarded up. Unemployment is high, the mines are mostly idle and the mood is glum.
When President Trump said, “The pipe has to be made in the United States of America if we’re going to have pipelines,” spirits were temporarily lifted. They knew not everyone would go back to work, but at least a few jobs would be generated. And then, the euphoria turned to more extreme disappointment when they saw this headline on March 5. Keystone pipeline won’t use U.S. steel despite Pledge. A Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the directive would apply only to new pipelines or those currently undergoing repair. Keystone doesn’t qualify because it is already under construction.
Whoops, but that’s not what the President Promised. Here it is again. “The pipe has to be made in the United States of America if we’re going to have a pipeline.”
While there was a great deal of disappointment in Minnesota, few people were surprised at the Trump about face. They didn’t know that the Russians willl wind up making the steel for the pipeline. Yes, the Russians. That change is particularly sad because in the last couple of years over 1200 mine workers on Minnesota’s iron range were laid off due to foreign steel imports.
The story doesn’t end there, though, there’s more to it. Here’s the story.
Because of the Trump reversal, the way is opened for the use of steel that is made in Canada by a subsidiary of Evraz which is one-third owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Evraz describes itself as ‘among the top steel producers in the world based on crude steel production of 14.3 million tons in 2015.’ Trump’s broken promise will enhance those numbers and result in Russians getting jobs instead of the Americans who have been laid off — that’s the bottom line and that’s not right.
You’ve probably never heard of Abramovich either. Well, we are hearing a lot of Russian names lately and his is near the top of the list. Mr. Abramovich is a longstanding personal and political friend of guess who? Yep, Vladimir Putin. The same Guy President Trump is kind of cozy with. Strange how all these names start coming together isn’t it. Well, there’s more.
A report in Desmogblog.com, a highly respected Canadian website, says that 40 percent of the steel created for the pipeline so far was made in Canada by a subsidiary of the Abramovich Company Evraz. I hope you are still following this because now we get to the “what goes around comes around” part of the circle. You see, Mr. Abramovich’s company Evraz has been an active lobbyist against any provision that would mandate Keystone pipeline steel be made in the USA.
Abramovich not only lobbies in the U.S.A. He’s active everywhere, including Russia. You and I can understand exchanging birthday gifts or gifts for special occasions. We might spend a couple dollars more on some people than on others but we don’t usually go to extremes. Not Mr. Abramovich — he is particularly generous. When Vladimir Putin became President of Russia did Abramovich give him a card with 20 bucks in it? No way. According to a January 2016 piece in The Daily Mail, Abramovich, who also owns the UK’s Chelsea Football Club, went well beyond anyone’s expectations. He gave Mr. Putin a 187-foot yacht worth 25 million British pounds. That kind gift begs two questions. Was he paying for something he already got or was it advance payment for something he wanted? No one gives gifts like that without expecting something in return.
Meanwhile, in Chisholm someone is getting their fishing boat repossessed, another family likely can’t make the house payment and someone is going hungry. Once again the rangers have had their hopes dashed but this time by the President of the United States who made a solemn promise and broke it.
Usually, if a lobbying effort is going to work it does so before any decision is made, but not in this case. The decision was made and then it was reversed. Maybe it wouldn’t be quite so strange if Russia were not involved.
In the meantime the buildings in Chisholm will stay boarded up, the mines will remain pretty much idle and the population of this beautiful part of Minnesota will continue to dwindle.