April 5, 2012
ArcelorMittal USA President and CEO Mike Rippey called on the federal government to return its attention to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Rippey was one of the North American steel executives who spoke to the Congressional Steel Caucus in March.
Rippey praised the caucus for its work in the past, including its ability to address issues facing the industry in a bipartisan way. But he noted that more work needs to be done to not just improve the infrastructure, but to provide a consistent source of funds to support its regular upkeep.
“For decades, we have allowed our infrastructure investment levels to fall far below our needs or even below replacement costs,” Rippey said. “Regardless of whether we talk about highways, bridges, rail and transit, shipping or water and sewer—all are deteriorating at an alarming rate.”
Rippey cited the 2009 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the country’s infrastructure a grade of D. “Common sense tells us all that things have not gotten better over the last three years,” Rippey said.
He noted that his company is both a supplier to infrastructure builds and a major user of that infrastructure, so its interests are twofold. “As a supplier, we see the potential for jobs if this nation can once again commit itself to building the roads, rail, shipping and pipelines that our modern economy demands. Our employees—whether they make plate steel in Burns Harbor, Ind., for America’s bridges or rail in Steelton, Pa., for the Washington Metro—are standing ready to meet the needs of American communities. I need not remind you that our economic competitors around the world, such as China or Brazil, are on a crash course to invest in those assets. How we fare in the infrastructure investment race with those nations and others will help determine how well America competes in our global economy.”
He also noted the costs associated with not taking action, pointing to a closed bridge near the company’s East Chicago, Ind., plant that has diverted heavy loads onto local side streets not designed for the purpose. “We face safety concerns for our workers and our neighbors, extraordinary congestion and substantial economic loss, yet the solution eludes us. And there are thousands of [such situations] all over America.”
Moreover, the infrastructure issues aren’t limited to land, pointing to the lack of adequate dredging in the Great Lakes, forcing major shippers to lighten their loads and add to their costs.
“Every day our costs are climbing and our efficiencies are declining because of the failure of this nation to do what must be done to return our infrastructure to world-class levels. All of us in America today are living off the public investments made a century or more ago by far-sighted people, but we are rapidly reaching the point in this country where that ‘borrowing from the past’ policy will no longer work.”
Though conceding that tax increases are never popular, Rippey said the failure to act would create a far greater cost to the taxpayers. The steel industry urges Congress to provide a dedicated source of revenue on a long-term basis, one sufficient to meet the growing infrastructure needs of the economy.
“Today’s infrastructure crisis is a product of decades of investments not made, and realities not addressed. It won’t be totally fixed by one bill, or in a short time,” Rippey said. “But we must reverse the decline, stabilize the systems, and turn around the direction we are all headed. American steel stands ready to be your partner in that effort.”