By John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Already fighting with the state of Ohio in the courtroom, AK Steel Corp. has taken the battle to the governor's mansion.
The Middletown-based steel company accused Gov. Bob Taft of helping a competitor to steal a customer. In a full-page ad in Sunday's Enquirer, AK Steel said the governor, while on a trade mission to Mexico in May, accompanied a representative of competitor International Steel Group to visit Lithonia Lighting, a long-time customer of AK Steel.
"This is a customer that we've served in this country for decades, and in Mexico for four or five years, and we have a good relationship," Alan McCoy, vice president of public affairs of AK Steel, said Monday. "It simply is inappropriate in our opinion for a governor to accompany one of our competitors."
He said the company found out about the visit when Lithonia called AK Steel to report the visit. "Such ceremonial activities are given a lot of weight and influence in Mexico. It certainly created the impression of an endorsement to our competitor," he said, adding that AK Steel hasn't lost any business because of the governor's visit.
AK Steel has about 10,000 employees and four plants in Ohio. ISG is headquartered near Cleveland, and was formed from the assets of bankrupt steel makers LTV and Bethlehem. It has no plants in Ohio.
McCoy called this "the last straw" in a fight over the company's alleged environmental violations. AK Steel refuses to pay fines over pollution of Dick's Creek in Butler County, and the case is slated for trial later this year. On Monday, AK Steel also accused the Ohio EPA of slanting environmental test results to make the violations look worse.
Gov. Taft's spokesman, Orest Holubec, said the governor and AK Steel CEO Richard Wardrop Jr. spoke last week about the Mexico trip.
The governor "let the CEO know that when he went to the meeting, he didn't know that AK Steel was a primary supplier for Lithonia and he said it was a mistake. We have contacted Lithonia in the meantime and endorsed AK Steel as a primary supplier of steel for the company," he said.
"The governor knows how important AK Steel is to the state and to the regions where it operates, but they do have environmental problems that need to be resolved, and the governor feels that Ohio EPA and the governor's office have worked in good faith to try to help them resolve these issues."
Despite last week's conversation, AK Steel chose to take out the ad for the sake of its employees, retirees, customers and suppliers. "Many of them were not aware of this issue, so we wanted to bring it to their attention," McCoy said.
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