‘Buy American’ Rule for Keystone Pipeline Dropped After Ex-Foreign Steel Exec Became Commerce Secretary

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross might benefit financially from Trump’s decision to drop the “Buy American” rule from Keystone Pipeline steel.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

The Trump administration’s decision to exempt the Keystone XL pipeline from “Buy American” rules could benefit one company in particular: the steel giant that newly minted Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross invested in and helped run for a decade.

Two days after Ross was confirmed, the White House announced that Commerce will not apply those rules to the project. “The Keystone XL Pipeline is currently in the process of being constructed, so it does not count as a new, retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipeline,” a White House spokesperson told Politico.

The pipeline’s exemption from Buy American rules could benefit Luxembourg-based company ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel manufacturer. Ross, a billionaire investor and leveraged buyout specialist, sat on the company’s board until Wednesday, and in January disclosed equity holdings of between $750,000 and $1.5 million.

ArcelorMittal has provided large amounts of material for the Keystone pipeline. According to company documentation, its plant in Bremen, Germany, sold dozens of kilotons of steel to Arkansas-based Welspun Tubular, which used the material to manufacture spiral welded pipe for the project.

The resulting products would not qualify as “American-made” under the definition employed by President Trump’s executive order implementing the rules.

In order for steel or iron used in pipeline manufacturing to be considered American, “all manufacturing processes,… from the initial melting stage through the application of coatings, [must have] occurred in the United States.”

The order took the form of a memorandum sent directly to the Secretary of Commerce, a position that was vacant until Ross was sworn in on Tuesday.

“Steel or iron material or products manufactured in the United States from semi-finished steel or iron of foreign origin are not ‘produced in the United States’ for purposes of this memorandum,” the order specifies.

ArcelorMittal’s formidable lobbying operation focused significant attention on approval of the Keystone pipeline as it languished in bureaucratic limbo during President Barack Obama’s second term.

The company disclosed pressing for approval of legislation to advance the project in spite of Obama’s reticence in federal filings that collectively reported more than $3.5 million in lobbying expenditures from 2013 to 2015.

The Obama administration eventually nixed the project, which, due to its crossing of the US-Canada border, required State Department approval. Days after taking office, President Trump reversed that decision.

That could benefit ArcelorMittal if its Buy American exemption allows it to continue providing materials for the project. It could also be good news for Sec. Ross, who has not said when he will fully divest his holdings in the company.

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ArcelorMittal did not respond to questions about its continued role in the construction of the pipeline.

The company told the Daily Beast this week that it expects Trump and his Commerce Department to pursue policies that will serve the company’s financial interests.

In the early 2000s, Ross bought up distressed American steel firms, consolidated them into his International Steel Group, then sold ISG to ArcelorMittal’s predecessor. He served on the company’s board from 2005 until his confirmation this week, taking in six-figure “director’s fees” annually.

It was not immediately clear if Commerce or the White House made the decision to exempt Keystone from Buy American provisions. Neither returned requests for comment.