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PRINT Act important for small publishers

Community newspapers have been embattled enough in recent years.

Now comes the federal government to fix things. Oh-oh.

The Commerce Department has imposed an initial penalty — likely to grow, at least short term — against Canadian manufacturers who supply about 75 percent of the newsprint upon which your local newspapers are published.

The Commerce Department is acting at the behest of one newsprint mill, NORPAC, owned by a hedge fund, in Washington State.

NORPAC contends it faces an unfavorably tilted playing field because, the company says, Canada subsidizes its newsprint manufacturers by allowing them to harvest trees on federal land and provides other supports.

U.S. publishers aren’t buying newsprint from Canada because they don’t like U.S. manufacturers. U.S. manufacturers have largely abandoned the newsprint market in this country because so many publishers have gone out of business during the digital revolution of the past two decades.

Publishers of community newspapers like The Orange Leader have combined editions, gone wholly digital or published less frequently to trim costs. U.S. paper manufacturers have sought to produce other, more profitable products, largely leaving the newsprint market to the Canadians.

That would change if NORPAC gets its way. It wants tariffs of up to 50 percent imposed on its Canadian competitors.

Commerce is investigating and has imposed interim assessments on some Canadian manufacturers. Penalties collected are held in escrow, but the damage to U.S. publishers is underway.

The Commerce Department wants to protect U.S. manufacturers and U.S. jobs. The greater likelihood is they will cause layoffs in the publishing industry as well as to companies that do business with publishers as publications cut back to pay anticipated higher newsprint costs.

Nor will American manufacturers resume their newsprint production. That takes many years to build a mill and prospects for profit are poor.

Fortunately, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators — seven Republicans, two Democrats and an independent — are promoting legislation, the “Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade” Act of 2018, which would suspend new tariffs on the Canadians. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called the tariffs “crippling” to U.S. publishers already operating on “razor-thin” margins.

The jobs are important, Collins and her cohorts said. But so is the dissemination of news and opinion from community newspapers in Texas and around the country.

At this country’s outset, the Founding Fathers recognized the need for disseminating news, political news in specific, so that westward-moving settlers could be knowledgeable about their government. That’s why early American newspapers were distributed cheaply through the mail.

Collins and colleagues are championing a cause — disseminating the news — as old as the country itself. We urge their Senate and U.S. House colleagues from Texas — Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Brian Babin— to join this movement.

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