Jan 2, 2009

Business - U.S. steel industry urges "buy America" recovery plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The ailing U.S. steel industry is pressing President-elect Barack Obama for a public works plan that could be worth $1 trillion over two years to boost flagging demand for U.S.-made steel, the New York Times reported in Friday's editions.

Daniel DiMicco, chairman and chief executive of Nucor Corp, a giant steel maker, told the paper the industry was asking the incoming administration to "deal with the worst economic slowdown in our lifetime through a recovery program that has in every provision a 'buy America' clause."

The industry supports building mass transit systems, bridges, electric power grids, schools, hospitals and water treatment plants -- all of which would require large amounts of steel.

"We are sharing with the president-elect's transition team our thoughts in terms of the industry's policy priorities," Nancy Gravatt, a spokeswoman for the American Iron and Steel Institute, was quoted as saying.

Obama, who is to be sworn in as president on January 20, has not revealed details of his soon-to-be-announced plan for spurring the weakest economy since the Great Depression more than 70 years ago. Aides have indicated most of the package will probably go into infrastructure spending rather than tax breaks.

"If the president-elect really follows through, he'll fund a lot of mass transit projects," said Wilbur Ross, a Wall Street dealmaker who put together a steel conglomerate known as Arcelor Mittal USA.

"All the big cities have these projects ready to go."

Since September, U.S. steel output has plunged about 50 percent to its lowest point since the 1980s, largely because construction and auto production have fallen sharply.

The fall-off in production of appliances, machinery and other electrical equipment has also reduced steel orders, sending the price of a ton of steel down by half since late summer.

Industry executives are "adding their voices to pleas for a huge public investment program of up to $1 trillion over two years," the Times reported.

Imports, which account for about 30 percent of all steel sales in the United States, are also hurting as customers disappear, the paper said.

(Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Todd Eastham)

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