KEYSTONE PIPELINE

Miles of pipe for the stalled Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline are stacked in a field near Ripley, Okla., in this 2012 photo.

Two Democratic senators Wednesday accused President Donald Trump of reneging on his promise to ensure that the Keystone XL Pipeline would be constructed with U.S. steel.

“I think our workers deserve better,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, in a telephone press conference. “And President Trump so far has shown that he will talk the talk when it comes to buy America, but he won’t walk the walk.”

Last week, reports surfaced that the pipeline’s owner, TransCanda, had already purchased foreign steel for the 1,180-mile project. 

The Keystone XL Pipeline has been a controversial project from the start. The massive system, which transports oil from western Canada to American refineries and distribution centers, became the center of the debate on climate change when its owner, TransCanada Corp., applied to construct the line. After six years of review, the Obama administration rejected the project.

Trump, through an executive order, revived the plan, as well as the stalled Dakota Access Pipeline, saying, “If we’re going to build pipelines in the United States the pipes should be made in the United States.”

He also signed a memorandum declaring that new or expanded pipelines be built with materials made in the U.S.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last week that the directive applies to new pipelines or those that are being repaired. The fact that the pipes have already been purchased exempts the company from Trump’s buy-American directive.

“The steel is already literally sitting there, it would be hard to go back,” she said.

Democrats took the opportunity to accuse Trump of turning his back on the struggling U.S. steel manufacturing industry.

“Now we know it’s not being built with American steel,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut. “And it’s still moving forward. That’s because Donald Trump doesn’t want to build the pipeline to grow jobs. He wants to build the pipeline to build oil industry profits.”

Baldwin and Murphy widened their criticism to include congressional Republicans.

Murphy said that when the pipeline bill was moving through the Senate in 2015, he offered an amendment that would have required the steel to come from U.S. steel mills.

“Every Republican voted against that piece of legislation,” he said.

Baldwin said her attempts to boost buy-America efforts have been stymied by Republicans as well.

She said that last year she included an amendment that would have required water infrastructure projects to be constructed with American materials, which passed the Senate on a 95-3 vote. But House Republicans, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, removed the language.

She referred to a Wall Street Journal report that the amendment was removed at the behest of Russian and Chinese steel interests.

“There’s no indication that those lobbyists are any less powerful today than they were last December,” she said.

Also participating in the press conference was David Hendrickson, vice president of Felker Brothers Corp. in Marshfield, one of only three U.S. manufacturers of stainless steel pipe fittings and piping systems.

“Buy-America is extremely important for our company,” he said. “I’ve seen it first-hand during the last recession how it’s helped our company. We were able to keep everyone employed at a living wage with important fringe benefits like health insurance and retirement contributions.”

He said the unfair trade practices by foreign manufacturers have crippled the industry. When asked if the government should be mandating that private companies use domestic suppliers for large infrastructure projects, he said that other countries are far ahead of the U.S. when it comes to supporting their own industries through domestic purchase policies.

“The games that have been played internationally here, if you do some research, are pretty significant,” he said. “We’re not doing anything different than any other country has already done, and probably a much bigger extent that what we’re looking at here right now.”

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.