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Parting Shots: Cost of pursuing green jobs—can the sky be the limit?

Keywords: Tags  Parting Shots, Tom Graham


The steel industry is an energy-intensive business that would be almost destroyed if zealous environmentalists had their way on carbon emissions. Whether consumed directly or indirectly, the industry relies heavily on coal and natural gas.  

Integrated producers have no economical way to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions. The only scheme offered today is called “carbon sequestration,” which involves capturing exhaust gases, pressurizing them and pumping them underground to particularly receptive geological formations. Scratch that idea. However, the whole process can show emission improvements by minimizing total energy inputs. 

Electric-arc furnace (EF) producers face a more manageable problem, but they are only one step removed from the same emission measurements by their reliance on public power systems, which are largely coal based. Any change in the fuel used to generate power would have a significant impact on the cost of power and, in turn, on the cost of steel using that electrical energy. As with integrated steelmakers, EF producers have an incentive to minimize the total energy consumed in the steelmaking process. 

Indeed, the U.S. steel industry stands among the most energy-efficient and lowest carbon-emitting industries in the world.

Politically, the grand scheme of environmental visionaries and their publicly elected allies that dictates mandatory compliance with carbon emissions caps, accompanied by “green” industries that would create “green” jobs to offset employment loss in carbon-emitting industries, is now crumbling for multiple reasons. The green jobs created to date have been outrageously expensive—and the contribution to air quality improvements for the taxpayer funds expended has been trivial—and the projected scientific progress required to make wind and solar power useful at all has stubbornly refused to cooperate. Solar and wind remain outlandishly expensive, and low-cost battery development is still out in some distant future. This vision had great appeal for people who wanted change, wanted it now and wanted government to compel it. The whole scheme is crashing in the face of persistent 9-percent unemployment, the huge federal deficit and the stubborn reality that major scientific “breakthroughs” cannot be scheduled to accommodate political objectives.

More even-handed study of the underlying phenomenon of global warming, its causes—and there are several—and projected consequences is in order.

Many people think the greatest threat to our country is not global warming, nor radical Muslim jihadists, nor China or Iran. The now-retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said it is economic failure. Those are portentous words from an unlikely source.  

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Thomas C. Graham is a founding member of T.C. Graham Associates. He is a former chairman and chief executive officer of AK Steel Corp., president and chief executive officer of Armco Steel Co. LP, chairman and chief executive officer of Washington Steel Corp., president of the U.S. Steel Group of USX Corp. and president and chief executive officer of Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. His column appears monthly. He invites readers’ comments and can be contacted at tom.graham@tcgrahamassociates.com.


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