Brazil Fines Steel Companies $250M

Steel companies caught using charcoal made from illegally logged forests face $250 million in fines and must replant about 27,181 acres of forest.

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) -- Brazil is imposing $250 million in fines on steel companies caught using charcoal made from illegally logged forests, the environment minister said Thursday.

Carlos Minc said 60 steel companies in three states face 414 million reals ($250 million) in fines and must replant about 27,181 acres of forest for using the illegal coal.

He said charcoal companies would be fined a total of 70 million reals ($43 million).

Brazil has very few coal mines and demand for wood-based charcoal for use in steel mills is a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon and other regions.

In this case, the illegal charcoal came from the Cerrado, a savanna-like ecosystem that occupies much of central Brazil, and the Pantanal, a huge wetlands that extends into Bolivia.

''I am amazed at the creativity of these people when it comes to environmental crimes,'' Minc said a press conference. ''If we don't open our eyes, the Cerrado and the Pantanal will be converted into charcoal.

Brazilian law requires that wood for charcoal come from planted forests devoted to the sustainable production of coal and prohibits the destruction of native forests.

The highest fines were imposed on Siderugica Alterosa, Siderugica Alamo, Sicafe Produtos Siderugica, Vetorial Siderugica and MMX Metalicos Corubma.

MMX was fined earlier this year for using illegal charcoal but continues to operate under a court injunction. No one at MMX was immediately available to comment on the fines.

Associated Press Writer Michael Astor contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.

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