By Morgan Watkins via Courier Journal | Jan 18, 2018

HAWESVILLE, Ky. – America’s aluminum industry is imperiled by foreign competition, but Gov. Matt Bevin indicated Thursday he believes President Donald Trump can help save — and even boost — jobs for Kentuckians in that sector.

Trump’s administration launched an investigation last year into the effect aluminum imports have on national security. The results could prompt the president to order protectionist measures in an attempt to support domestic companies like Century Aluminum Co. in Hawesville.

“This is about real families,” Bevin said of the workers employed at Century Aluminum, which operates two aluminum smelters in Kentucky. “It isn’t just a company. It isn’t just a smokestack.”

High-strength aluminum alloys are used in making military aircraft, and aluminum armor plate can help protect against explosives, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in April, when the administration initiated its aluminum investigation.

However, America’s ability to produce this metal is shrinking. Aluminum imports to the U.S. rose 18 percent (and domestic production declined) in 2016 compared to 2015, while employment in America’s aluminum industry dropped nearly 13 percent, according to a federal fact sheet.

The U.S. Commerce Department must deliver a report on its aluminum investigation to Trump by Jan. 22, after which the president has 90 days to determine what, if any, actions to take.

Bevin expressed confidence Thursday in Trump’s willingness to intervene and help the nation’s struggling aluminum producers, which he said would have “an immediate and powerful impact” on communities like Hawesville in terms of job creation.

“The president genuinely cares about American workers,” he said, noting that he thinks Trump’s forthcoming decision could determine the survival of the industry.

The administration said last April that the U.S. aluminum industry’s profits are suppressed by artificially low prices, which have been caused by unfairly traded imports and excess capacity internationally.

Only five aluminum smelters are still operating in the U.S., Century Aluminum CEO Mike Bless said. If Trump takes action to protect the industry, his company plans to quickly increase production and hire dozens of new workers.

“There’s not many jobs out here like this,” Coy Zuelly, 46, who has worked for Century Aluminum for over a decade, told the governor Thursday. “If you don’t have these jobs, your community suffers tremendously.”

Several other employees who were part of a roundtable chat with the governor have family serving in the military, and they told him they’d feel safer knowing their loved ones are being protected by high-quality, American-made equipment overseas.

The Aluminum Association in Washington, D.C., considers Chinese overcapacity as the aluminum market’s fundamental problem, said Matt Meenan, senior director of public affairs.

The association would like to see Trump enact a remedy that focuses on China, Meenan said, and would support establishing a federal monitoring system that tracks the route aluminum imports take to the U.S.