A Victory for Buy America in Oregon

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Aug 07 2023 |
Aerial shot of downtoan Portland from the Fremont Bridge. Getty Images

Gov. Tina Kotek recently signed legislation to require the use of American-made iron and steel for state-funded construction projects.

Buy America just got a big boost in the Beaver State.

Gov. Tina Kotek on July 31 signed House Bill (HB) 3332, which requires that any public procurement contract with an estimated cost of $250,000 or more include notice that contractors will be required to use steel, iron, coatings for steel and iron and manufactured products that are produced in the United States.

Effectively, that means state taxpayer-funded construction projects will be required to use Made in America iron and steel, putting Oregon in line with federal requirements already on the books that require American-made iron and steel products be used in federally funded construction projects.

On the state level, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, and others also have Buy America laws in place.

HB 3332 enjoyed widespread support from business, labor, and environmental groups, including the United Steelworkers (USW), Oregon AFL-CIO, Ironworkers Local 29, BlueGreen Alliance, and Williamette Technical Fabricators, a local steel fabrication company. Schnitzer Steel Industries, a Portland-based company that’s one of the largest manufacturers of recycled metal products in the country, also offered support for HB 3332.

Alicia Chapman, Williamette’s CEO and owner, testified before an Oregon House committee that HB 3332 will help “companies like ours who are committed to a triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit to be more competitive. It also means that approximately 50% of our revenue that goes to buy materials stays closer to home and gets reinvested in strengthening the domestic and local supply chain.”

Khanh Tran, Schnitzer’s public affairs manager, testified that HB 3332 “will advance domestic preference policies which help promote domestic production, encourage regional economic growth, and protect national security interests. The passage of HB 3332 will ensure the efficient implementation and enforcement of Buy America requirements and incentivize investments in domestic production facilities, which create jobs and support secure supply chains here in Oregon.”

Oregon workers and manufacturers previously missed out on state taxpayer-funded construction contracts because of the influx of cheap imports. But that doesn’t mean the state has saved money, as Ron Rodgers, sub-district 3 director of USW District 12, told Public News Service (PNS).

For example, local steel facilities didn’t get the contract for a highway bypass near Newberg, Ore., which ended up being a missed opportunity for the state.

“We could have saved a lot of money on transportation costs,” Rodgers told PNS. “The tax dollars would have stayed in the Oregon economy versus importing steel from out of country where we get no tax dollar benefit from the workers whatsoever. And, frankly, it was made a lot cleaner than any processes you’re going to see out of China or other imported steel countries.”

The environmental impact of Buy America cannot be understated. Ranfis Giannettino Villatoro, the Oregon Policy Manager of the BlueGreen Alliance, testified that his organization supported HB 3332 because it “serves as a prime example of promoting domestic manufacturing while supporting cleaner steel and iron products as we try to meet our climate goals.”

The Alliance for American Manufacturing’s own Brian Lombardozzi also testified in support of HB 3332, telling lawmakers that HB 3332 will help guide Oregon to “do its best to encourage U.S. production and investment” and “ensure that compliance with U.S. environmental and labor standards is the standard for doing business with the one of the globe’s biggest customers.”

“Indeed, Oregon should use it purchasing power to complement its public policy objectives. Unlike their foreign competitors in places like China, India, and Russia, United States manufacturers are heavily regulated and do not rely on subsidies from their government to make them more competitive,” Lombardozzi said. “Oregon’s procurement policies should not be divorced from its public policies. Taxpayer dollars should not be used to bolster foreign state-owned enterprises, nor should they reward companies that have moved their operations, investment dollars, and jobs away to foreign countries.”

Bravo to Oregon lawmakers for passing HB 3332 and for Gov. Kotek for signing it into law. We encourage states without their own Buy America laws in place to get to work — and for officials at both the state and federal levels to strongly enforce Buy America, ensuring that taxpayer money is reinvested right back into American workers, companies, and communities.