Prove your humanity

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited the Cleveland-Cliffs Butler Works in Lyndora, Pennsylvania, about an hour north of Pittsburgh, on Monday to tout the Biden administration’s investments and policies supporting American-made steel. 

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The Energy Department recently finalized a rule for distribution transformers that relies on the electrical steel made at the Lyndora plant. It is also providing $75 million to upgrade the plant’s furnaces to reduce its carbon emissions. 

Granholm told members of the United Auto Workers union that President Biden is working to protect American manufacturing, including jobs at their steel plant. 

“The president believes that we can grow and decarbonize critical industries like steel,” she said, “and create good-paying, high-quality union jobs. Not one or the other. We can do both. It is all connected.” 

It was a rare bipartisan gathering, including Democratic Congressman Chris Deluzio and Republican Congressman Mike Kelly, along with labor and Cleveland-Cliffs management. They celebrated their joint effort to protect the future of the Butler Works. 

“Collectively, as a team, we just saved 1300 jobs. We protected not just our UAW members’ jobs but the welfare of our families,” said Daniel Vicente, UAW Region 9 director. 

Local union workers cheer a new federal rule to modernize the grid, but efficiency experts are unimpressed

Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy proposed an energy efficiency rule that would have replaced the type of steel made at the Butler Works in new transformers in favor of a more energy-efficient steel. Local union members spoke out against it, concerned that it could lead to the closure of their plant. 

In the final rule, announced earlier this month, the change was walked back, and most transformers will continue to be made with the electrical steel made at the Butler Works.

“This isn’t about next month, it’s not about next year,” Granholm said. “This is about the next generation of technology, American manufacturing, and American workers.”

rolls of steel in a plant

The Cleveland-Cliffs Butler Works (pictured here) and Zanesville Works in Ohio are the only U.S. plants that make grain-oriented electrical steel used in transformers, which convert high-voltage electricity from power plants to levels safe for homes and businesses. Photo: Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

The win for Cleveland-Cliffs is not without its costs to climate action

Granholm said the transformer efficiency rule will reduce nearly 85 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions nationwide over thirty years. 

“But the Biden administration passed up much, much larger energy savings,” said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, which advocates for energy efficiency. 

He said the final rule will save only one-third of what the DOE initially proposed.

“It means millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions that could have been avoided. So that’s a missed opportunity,” he said.

However, Granholm stands by the changes the DOE made between the proposed and the final rule. 

This is what the process was meant to come out to,” Granholm said when asked about the changes in the final rule. “You put out a proposal, you get input, you talk to folks who are on the ground. You work it through, and you achieve a win-win both on CO2 emissions as well as on jobs,” she said. 

Granholm also congratulated Cleveland-Cliffs on another plan to reduce carbon emissions. The DOE recently announced a $75 million dollar grant to upgrade gas furnaces at the Butler Works to run on electricity. 

 We’re not going to be burning natural gas to reheat the furnace,” explained Lourenco Goncalves, president of Cleveland-Cliffs. 

Goncalves also told reporters that with the new DOE transformer rule, he is working to open a steel plant in Weirton, West Virginia, and hire 800 people to build transformers there. Cleveland-Cliffs closed a tin plate plant in Weirton just last week.