Pacific Steel v. CMC reveals rebar market disruption and greening

Cement and cementitious materials producers are helping concrete customers improve carbon dioxide emissions reduction track records and or embodied carbon metrics. Additional improvements are in the offing for structural concrete as reinforcing steel top guns log CO2 cuts on trend lines sharper than their portland cement counterparts. Since the percentage of rebar in a column cross section can approach that of concrete mix design binders, project stakeholders will see measurable embodied carbon performance among sources of two indispensable materials.

This month we have the overall leader in concrete reinforcing steel production, fabrication and distribution, North Carolina-based Nucor Corp., enter a major renewable energy contract for its Texas operations (page 34). Solar power factors into a parallel legal development involving Commercial Metals Co. (CMC), Irving, Texas—second in raw rebar milling to Nucor but a bigger player in fabrication.

San Diego-based rebar fabricator and installer Pacific Steel Group (PSG) seeks damages and injunctive relief in a complaint alleging federal antitrust and California business practices law violations by CMC, Irving, Texas, and its principal plant builder, Danieli Corp., Cranberry Township, Pa. PSG counsel Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, San Francisco, outlines a case by examining the emergence of a) vertical integration in rebar production, fabrication, distribution and installation; and, b) micro mill technology from Danieli, which has built low-cost production lines for CMC in Arizona and Oklahoma. Attorneys allege that CMC:

  • In tandem with peer producer and fabricator Gerdau Reinforcing Steel, responded to PSG’s 2014 launch by bidding on construction projects below cost to try to starve the upstart of revenues and drive it from the California market;
  • Priced its fabrication and installation services for the purpose of injuring PSG and destroying competition in violation of California statutes;
  • Conspired to prevent PSG from building its own Danieli micro mill;
  • Enlisted Danieli for construction of a Mesa, Ariz. mill and secured an agreement under which the production line specialist would refrain for a nearly six-year period from building a similar facility within 500 miles of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.—site of a Gerdau operation CMC acquired in late 2018 as part of a major Gerdau SA steel mill and fabrication shop transaction; and,
  • Conferred with Danieli representatives on solar power options for the Mesa site after the plant builder had discussed a similar plan with PSG for a micro mill in California, where new carbon-wise procurement guidelines favor rebar operations tapping clean energy sources..

“Commercial Metals Company fears competition from Pacific Steel Group and has resorted to blatant anticompetitive measures to maintain its monopoly position and reap inflated profits. Antitrust laws insist that Pacific Steel Group be allowed to engage in competition in a free marketplace for the benefit of the many commercial construction projects in California and neighboring states that use rebar,” says Cohen Milstein Partner Daniel Small.

The CMC and Danieli tactics, adds PSG CEO Eric Benson, were clear: “To prevent PSG from entering the rebar manufacturing market and providing construction customers a high-quality, lower-cost alternative.”

The solar power technology PSG considered for its Danieli micro mill is from Heliogen, a Pasadena, Calif. venture launched with the backing of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The firm’s HelioMax mirror assemblies capture and concentrate sun rays to generate HelioHeat streams up to 1,500°C. At plant scale, Heliogen infrastructure could significantly lower CO2 emissions in steel or portland cement production when measured against conventional processes.

We’ll leave it to the District Court to address the legal claims, but credit PSG and its attorneys for spotlighting disruptive concrete reinforcing steel market forces driving more competitive, carbon-lite bar and cages.