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U.S. Steel will fire up Granite City Works mill

U.S. Steel Corp. on Wednesday said it will refire one of two idled blast furnaces at its massive Granite City Works steel mill in southern Illinois, bringing about 500 people back to work.

The move also could increase demand for taconite iron ore from the company's Minnesota mines.

The Pittsburgh-based company said the increased steelmaking capacity will “support anticipated increased demand for steel in the United States” after President Donald Trump said last week his administration will impose tariffs on imported steel, a glut of which has been imported into the U.S. at prices below cost.

“Our Granite City Works facility and employees, as well as the surrounding community, have suffered too long from the unending waves of unfairly traded steel products that have flooded U.S. markets,” David B. Burritt, U. S. Steel CEO, said in a statement. “The Section 232 (tariff) action announced by President Trump last week recognizes the significant threat steel imports pose to our national and economic security.”

The company said it anticipates calling back about 500 employees beginning this month. The restart process could take up to four months. The company expects to provide information on the anticipated financial impact of the restart as more details on the president’s executive order become available for analysis in the coming days.

U.S. Steel’s Keetac operation in Keewatin had previously been supplying Granite City, and Keetac shut down in May 2015 as the steel furnaces slowed production. Keetac reopened in early 2017, even with Granite City furnaces still idled, with the company saying it was selling the extra taconite pellets to foreign buyers.

The company was vague Wednesday on any potential effect of the Granite City reopening on Minnesota operations.

“Through our operations and our shared joint ventures (in Minnesota) we have iron ore pellet production capability that exceeds our steelmaking capability in the U.S.,” Meghan Cox, U.S.  Steel spokeswoman, told the News Tribune.

In addition to Keetac, U.S. Steel owns and operates the Minntac taconite mine and plant in Mountain Iron, the largest in the U.S., and is part-owner of Hibbing Taconite.

Both Granite City Works blast furnaces and its steelmaking facilities were idled in December 2015 and the plant’s hot strip mill was idled in January 2016 in response to the massive decline in demand for U.S.-made steel at the time during a global excess of steel capacity and “unfairly traded imports,” the company said.