Thursday, October 2, 2003

AK Steel to meet environmentalist



By James McNair
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Environmental groups spent years trying to persuade AK Steel's former CEO to meet and talk. The new acting CEO, James Wainscott, will host an environmental representative today - after two weeks on the job.

The Middletown steel maker confirmed Wednesday that Wainscott will meet Rachael Belz, Ohio Citizen Action's director in Southwest Ohio. The meeting will be at AK, which was pretty much off-limits to environmentalists during Richard Wardrop's eight-year reign as CEO. Wardrop was forced out Sept. 18.

"We requested meetings in the past with old management, and it was definitely not a high priority with them," Belz said. "The only time we talked with Wardrop face-to-face was at the shareholder meetings, and his response was never positive."

Belz said she called Wainscott as soon as he was named. AK is under siege on the environmental, workplace and business fronts, and Wainscott is establishing himself as a leader willing to listen. He returned Belz's call immediately.

"Basically he said he would meet with me," she said. "We are hoping for changes at AK, but obviously it's too soon to tell what changes could be made, will be made or what will be planned."

Belz declined to specify what she would say to Wainscott today. AK is fighting federal and state lawsuits alleging years of air, water and solid waste pollution by the company. The company denies the charges.

"It's what I see will be the beginning of a series of discussions," Belz said.

AK Steel spokesman Alan McCoy likewise gave no hint of today's agenda.

"We have scheduled a meeting with Rachael Belz," he said. "The reason is very simply that Mr. Wainscott has been spending a lot of time listening, talking and making acquaintance with a number of folks that have an interest in our business. There are no promises, no guarantees, simply a little bit of dialogue."

E-mail jmcnair@enquirer.com.



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