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April 2007


Congressman Robert E. Andrews

Steel and Recycling

With the American steel industry facing strong overseas competition, American Recycler presents the legislative and industry views on issues facing the industry and recycling in general.

For the political perspective, we contacted three-term member of the House of Representatives Timothy J. Ryan (D-OH), who serves on the Congressional Steel Caucus and is co-chair of the Congressional Manufacturing Caucus.

For the industry perspective, we contacted Bill Heenan, president of the Steel Recycling Institute. Heenan, a strong proponent of local control of consumer-based recycling, believes that persuasion and common sense will appeal to the average consumer and business owner to voluntarily be attracted to recycling.

Q. Are you satisfied with the current level of steel recycling and if not, what should be done to improve the recycling rate? Since most of the steel tariffs have been rescinded, what measures are the government considering to protect the United States steel industry?

Ryan: Recycling is a critical part of conserving our natural resources and protecting our environment, yet we can do better. It is exceptionally important to make sure that any improvements or changes to the current way we recycle steel must be carefully worked to ensure they are the right solution. Tax incentives are one approach, but require offsets to maintain overall tax revenue.

Recycling is only a small part of what it will take to protect the steel industry. Of critical importance is protecting the United States industry from unfair trade practices, specifically, Chinese trade practices that are harming our steel industry. We must create a fair trade environment where our highly creative and productive industry can thrive on the world market. That is why my Republican colleague Duncan Hunter and I have re-introduced the Fair Currency Act of 2007, which would give our Government the ability to tackle China and other nations that try to create unfair advantages in industries such as steel.

Heenan: We’re recycling 80 percent, but the last 20 percent is going to take a lot of effort. We have to look for ways to make that effort as inexpensive as possible because once you put that effort into anything, complications will arise. The last 20 percent is most difficult to recycle and one of the solutions is mandating curbside recycling to consumers that have enough of a population that they can generate enough of a volume of recyclables. That should make economic sense.

Recycling a steel can from an isolated ranch in Texas does not make sense, but it does in a city like Cleveland. Let’s make sure that the Cleveland’s in our nation have the necessary infrastructure so they can participate. As well, we have to make sure that people understand how it works and convince them to participate – not by fines, but by peer pressure.

Q. Are you receptive to working with the recycling community to come up with solutions, including legislation and regulations, that could improve the rate for the recycling of steel and other materials?

Ryan: We are always open to considering legislative options. Keep in mind, however, that the legislative process can be long and laborious, as it requires solutions that a majority of the country can agree upon. If recycling legislation were proposed by someone, my staff and I would work to determine the viability and effectiveness of such legislation, and a key part of that process is to reach out to experts within the community.

Heenan: We see such legislation mostly in the northeastern states and the West Coast, so once again, we see that it is the great middle that needs help. You have large populations in Texas, Illinois and Ohio that can help us get over the hump. Illinois has some good programs – Chicago has a very good curbside program, but there is always room for improvement and even very good programs can do better.

Q. Have you been in contact with or will you contact the recycling community prior to introducing legislation or updating existing legislation and regulations?

Ryan: As of this time, we haven’t explored the option of introducing or updating legislation on the matter. I will say though, that if we decided to move in that direction, it would be in consultation with the recycling community. We have instead focused on working to provide the steel industry with the options not just to survive, but thrive and compete in the global steel market that is currently being driven by China and their unfair trade practices.

Heenan: What we don’t need is command and control. What we do need is legislation that is recommended from the recycling community rather than people saying “I know the solution.” Not all knowledge rests in Washington DC.

There is a lot of information that is available, many studies have been conducted and the National Recycling Coalition, working together with the experts from the steel, plastic, glass and paper industries and the legislative branch of our government. These studies can bring forward solutions that can improve recycling rates for all materials. My peers in the recycling industry would love to sit down with legislators to design legislation that would improve recycling.

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