Sen. Bob Casey

Sen. Bob Casey

As a House companion bill to Senate PRINT Act legislation makes its rounds, Pennsylvania’s senior senator continued to press the U.S. Commerce Department to take action that would make moot a Congressional bid to compel a rollback of tariffs on Canadian news-print.

In a letter dated Thursday and released by his office, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, called on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to “initiate a suspension agreement” between American and Canadian newsprint producers “to avoid adverse impact to our newspaper industry.”

Casey also acknowledged the concern expressed “from numerous newspapers in Pennsylvania” and saying “local newspapers and a free press are a bedrock of our democracy and they must have the resources available to faithfully report and transmit the news.”

“I am glad to see that Sen. Casey’s letter of support for tariff relief that is needed for the newspaper industry,” said Michael Donnelly, publisher of The Indiana Gazette and chairman of the board of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, which represents 76 daily newspapers and more than 150 non-daily papers across the Keystone State.

“The current conditions with 30 percent tariffs on newsprint is unsustainable for the newspaper community,” Donnelly said. “We hope that the Commerce Department will heed Senator Casey’s request.”

Casey opposes Senate Bill 2835, the Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018, or PRINT Act, that would suspend Commerce Department tariffs on uncoated groundwood paper imported from Canada, at least until a review is completed, possibly in August, of its impact on U.S. users of those imports.

Casey’s office cited such entities as the United Steelworkers of America and the American Iron and Steel Institute, in saying the PRINT Act “would set a dangerous precedent in establishing a new ‘national interest’ standard to the application of our trade laws.” On Thursday Casey reiterated that Ross could “use his authorities under the Tariff Act of 1930 … to reach a swift resolution to this matter.”

Such a resolution would involve Canadian producers such as Resolute Forest Products and Kruger Inc., both based in Montreal, and Catalyst Paper Corp., of Richmond, British Columbia, as well as U.S. producer North Pacific Paper Company, or NORPAC, the Longview, Wash.-based subsidiary of New York private equity company One Rock Capital Partners LLC.

NORPAC petitioned the Commerce Department for the tariffs imposed earlier this year.

The Canadian companies all have had operations in the United States. Resolute has a subsidiary based in Fairmont, W.Va., while Kruger lists operations in Tennessee, Maine, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia. On May 25, Catalyst announced it was selling its Dayton, Ohio, operations center and mills in Rumford, Maine, and Biron, Wis., to ND Paper LLC, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Nine Dragons Paper Ltd.

On May 24, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, the state’s junior senator, signed on as a co-sponsor of SB 2835, saying “the newspaper and publishing industries are facing unprecedented challenges and the tax on UGW paper could spell the end of numerous publishers across Pennsylvania.”

Since Toomey signed on two more Republican senators also have joined as co-sponsors. The bill introduced on May 14 by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, now has 11 GOP co-sponsors, Toomey and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and six Democratic co-sponsors.

Then on Thursday U.S. Rep. Kristi L. Noem, R-S.D., was joined by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and 10 other Republicans in co-sponsoring House of Representatives Bill 6031. The News Media Alliance, a coalition of nearly 2,000 American news organizations, said HR 6031 is identical to the Senate PRINT Act proposal.

Noem said her bill is the latest in a series of efforts to better support local newspapers, including more than 125 in her home state.

“During tax reform, many South Dakota newspapers reached out with concerns about a proposed ‘ad tax,’ which would have forced news organizations to pay taxes on advertising dollars,” Noem said. “The impact of a tax like that would have been widespread and made it more expensive for local businesses to advertise their goods and services.”

In the end, she said, “we were able to stave off the proposed tax hike.”

However, she also noted other problems facing publishers, including the U.S. Postal Service’s proposal to cut Saturday mail delivery. 

‘We successfully fought the measure and forced the Postal Service to create organizational efficiencies before cutting services to South Dakota families, newspapers, and businesses,” Noem told her constituents.

No Pennsylvania U.S. House members are signed on as co-sponsors of HR 6031.