In Response: Don't blame foreign actors for our iron-economy struggles
Regarding the letter bemoaning the "foul and unfair" practices challenging iron ore mining companies and the negative consequences for the Mesabi Iron Range, it is wrong to paint the U.S. as a victim in the iron economy (Reader's View: "With Trump, Iron Range thriving again," Jan. 9).
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Australian mining giants like BHP and Rio Tinto produce many times more usable iron than is produced in the U.S., due to at least two important but different factors.
First, the total reserves of recoverable iron from ore in Australia are 23,000 million metric tons compared to only 790 million metric tons in the U.S., a ratio of about 30:1. They simply have far greater reserves and therefore can leverage volume of production.
Second, one only has to drive across western Australia near Port Hedland to see automated rail systems moving immense volumes of ore very efficiently, day and night, from inland mining operations to the coast, where the ore is loaded onto ships. As of 2016, Australia produced about 20 times more usable iron than the U.S.
The Australians have both technology and scale on their side, and they are making the most of it.
In addition, 10 other countries have more extractable iron than the U.S. Brazil and Russia have well over 10,000 million metric tons in reserves. Brazil's vast reserves are now coming online and will further dwarf U.S. production.
It is therefore a senseless argument to direct blame at overseas economic aggressors rather than recognize that it is difficult to compete effectively in an extractive-resource economy when you have only a tiny fraction of the whole pot. Pointing blame elsewhere, following President Donald Trump, is like putting your head in the sand.
The facts regarding the global distribution of iron ore foreshadow the difficulties the taconite and steel industries in the U.S. will continue to have competing over the long term.
Tariffs already are having an effect on steel production. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, steel industry employment in 2018 fell 4 percent from four years ago. Stock prices of U.S. steel producers fell as much as 47 percent in 2018. And, according to the New York Times, U.S. business and trade groups are urging the Trump administration to remove tariffs hurting domestic steel and manufacturing companies.
Minnesotans have benefitted from more than a century of iron-ore production, but our industry is in a mature stage. Putting up tariffs may feel good in the short term but cannot make the U.S. competitive over the long term. Others will control the market and simply outlast us.
John Goodge is a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Minnesota Duluth.