LUXEMBOURG: Mittal braced for protests on pollution

Publisher Name: 
The Observer

Steel giant ArcelorMittal will be accused of leaving
a trail of environmental destruction in its wake this week when
campaigners descend on Luxembourg to protest at its annual meeting.

Run
and part-owned by Britain's richest man, Lakshmi Mittal, ArcelorMittal
has received more than $500m in taxpayer-backed loans over the past
decade, from development lenders including the London-based European
Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

Bankwatch, a network of
local campaign groups that monitors the activities of the EBRD, says
the steelmaker has used the cash to boost its bottom line, instead of
mitigating the environmental and social impact of its plants.

Protestors
will present Arcelor's shareholders with a 40-page dossier of evidence
about the firm's behaviour across the globe, from Orissa in India to
Vanderbijlpark in South Africa. Pippa Gallop of Bankwatch said the firm
had grown rapidly by buying up former state-owned steel plants without
investing sufficiently in cleaner technologies: 'The main problem is
the aggressive cost-cutting strategy of this company.'

Jan
Syrtr, a Czech lawyer involved in bringing a test case against the
company over pollution levels from its Ostrava plant, said people in
the local district of Radvanice a Bartovice have to use magnets to
clear the steel dust from inside their homes. 'Depending on the state
of the weather, you can really smell that you're in Radvanice,' he
said. 'We don't want money; we just want this to stop.'

Liz Ilg,
from Citizen Action in Cleveland, Ohio, will demand the company put
more effort into cutting pollution at her local works. She said: 'This
is the most urban steel mill in the US: they've got more people living
around them than any other plant - 390,000 within five miles.' Mittal
took over the plant from International Steel Corporation in 2004.

'The
main message is: start to look at pollution prevention at your
facilities. The best way to do that is to sit down and talk to
community members,' said Ilg. She has collected 34,000 signatures on a
petition, but says the company has so far refused to meet local people.

A
spokeswoman said: 'ArcelorMittal takes health and safety and
environmental issues very seriously. During 2007, we spent
approximately $500m on health and safety and environment-related
projects and since 1990 we have successfully reduced the CO2 footprint
of our steelmaking by over 20 per cent.' She added that the company was
drawing up plans to reduce emissions from the Czech plant.

Gallop
said it was difficult for civil society groups to monitor whether the
EBRD's loans to ArcelorMittal have been well spent. 'In many cases, the
improvements are completely unverifiable, because the action plans have
never been released,' she said. An EBRD spokesman said the bank had
clear policies 'to assess the impact of our loans'.

AMP Section Name:Natural Resources
  • 183 Environment