Finished steel pipe sit outs the U.S. Steel Lorain Tubular Operations plant in Ohio. The plant has since partially closed down, citing import competition.

Trump’s American-made Pipeline Memo May be Gone, but It’s Not Forgotten


Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s Made In America pipeline memorandum.

You’re forgiven if you missed the date; the news cycle spins on overdrive these days. But it made a lot of noise in 2017 when the memo was released — and was well-received by the domestic manufacturing sector Trump had championed on the campaign trail.

The memo to the president’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, instructed him to:

“develop a plan under which all new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired, or expanded pipelines, inside the borders of the United States … use materials and equipment produced in the United States, to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law.”

It was a bold, encouraging first step for the brand-new president. But that plan’s due date came and went months ago, without the public seeing its details.

Presumably the president saw it. But what came of it? Would procurement policies be tightened? Would new ones be proposed? The pipeline memo’s disappearance was akin to the third child added (and quickly subtracted) to Married…With Children, or the replacement doctor on the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. With little explanation, it has vanished.

Still, we shouldn’t declare it legally dead just yet. A lot of the president’s trade policy decisions, seeded in his first year, are ripe for harvest in 2018 — and the goals outlined in that pipeline memo could be among them.

Should it resurface with some teeth attached, it can’t happen fast enough.

Imports of oil country tubular goods — precisely the kind of product used in energy infrastructure, like the pipelines of Trump memo — were up nearly 200 percent in 2017. That’s a spike largely attributable to foreign manufacturers rushing in often-subsidized products before tariffs or duties, implied by the president’s memo posturing, could materialize.

The results have been predictable: Steelworkers at pipe mills, a sector battered by import surges in recent years, have seen layoffs.

In fact, a similar spike was seen in overall steel imports last year, after President Trump announced a Section 232 national security investigation into that sector. Imports rose more than 15 percent — a remarkable increase — as offshore companies raced to beat tariffs that the president has boasted of but so far failed to materialize.

Despite it all, the president could make good on his campaign promises and American-made inclinations. That Section 232 investigation into steel imports must, by statute, be concluded in the next few months.

And should he choose to act on the investigation’s findings, the president could restrict steel imports on the grounds they undercut American security — and it’s not a stretch to see how pipeline materials would fit into such a plan. Energy security fits logically into this larger framework. Having high-quality, reliable pipe is critical to our larger defense strategy, and it’s something we know our domestic industry can provide.

This thought experiment may be for naught. The memorandum may have been shelved by a skeptical faction within a fractured White House, or a mercurial president may have forgotten about his memorandum.

But I doubt this president has forgotten his base. Disappeared memos or not, the working-class voters who turned out for Trump did so largely on his promise to fight for hard-pressed, forgotten industry.

I hope 2018 is the year the president remembers those manufacturing promises made on the campaign trail.