Despite gut-wrenching evidence to the contrary — not the least the coming layoffs of more than 1,100 Iron Range steelworkers — U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan insisted Thursday that the White House has been “very aggressive” in combating illegal steel dumping, a practice crippling the U.S. steel industry.

“But it ain’t working,” Nolan told members of the Duluth News Tribune editorial board in an exclusive interview. “There’s been a serious increase in demand for steel in this country, but it’s all being fed by illegally dumped steel [from foreign nations]. Chinese steel is coming in at 75 percent of their own cost. Well, you can’t compete with that.”

U.S. Steel has been citing the resultant oversupply of unable-to-be-sold American-made steel in announcing nationwide production slowdowns. Three weeks ago, the Pittsburgh-based steel giant said 412 employees at Keewatin’s Keetac plant would be laid off effective May 13. This week it said another 700 workers at Mountain Iron’s Minntac plant would be out by June. The Iron Range steelworkers are among 4,000 laid off around the country.

“The sanctions don’t work, to put it bluntly,” Nolan said. “Number one is the process takes too long. … And the lawyers can intervene and sue at any place or time … Millions of dollars and years later you get this determination with sanctions. Well, in many cases, even if everything went perfectly, the damage is still already done.”

Nolan and others, including Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, met last week regarding this problem with top officials from the Obama administration. They are investigating, the officials said, and they are catching wrongdoing.

The Minnesotans left those meetings in D.C. “committed to action,” as Franken said in a statement.

But what action? Words and commitments are a far cry from a solution.

Frustratingly, while it seems clear that stronger sanctions are needed and that a less-lengthy investigation-determination process would help, neither is likely to happen, Nolan said he was told by the administration. Such steps could put the U.S. in violation of trade agreements.

“In my judgment, the only real way to do [anything then] is not to enter into [trade agreements] in the first place,” Nolan said. “Then we get to regulate, the Congress … We get to decide what the tariffs are going to be. We decide what the rules are going to be. Then we don’t have this external international organization that’s totally ineffectual.”

But what about now? What about the hundreds of Iron Rangers and their families facing uncertain futures?

“I don’t see anything that could be done quickly enough to help with the current situation,” said the usually optimistic Nolan, who a day earlier spent time on the Iron Range.

The state will do what it can “to help laid-off workers with unemployment benefits and to [help them] find training and new careers,” vowed Gov. Mark Dayton, who was expected to visit the Iron Range this weekend.

“Now is a time for everyone to come together and support one another,” Dayton said in a statement.

It certainly is, and while the Iron Range and all of the Northland need the state to follow through, we also need Nolan and his colleagues in Washington to finally find a way to do something meaningful to end illegal steel dumping.

FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE