The moniker of “freedom fries” was only the beginning of the backlash against France on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Scott McInnis (R., Colo.), is asking the Department of Veterans Affairs to immediately sever its ties with a French-owned marble manufacturer that is the main supplier of headstones for national cemeteries.
McInnis announced Wednesday he would push the administration to end its dealings with Paris-based Imerys, an industrial conglomerate that owns several major marble quarries and producers.
”It’s obviously inappropriate for a company owned by French interests to be supplying headstones for the V.A. when the French have done everything in their power to undermine the very troops whose sacrifice from which they now stand to profit,” McInnis said. “Clearly, there was a much different relationship between our governments when this contract was put together, but in light of the of the French government’s recent behavior, there is no reason that the V.A. needs to continue purchasing marble headstones from this company.”
The marble headstones that mark the graves of fallen soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery and throughout the country are supplied by a subsidiary of Imerys. Once a steel company, Imerys now focuses on the production of industrial minerals and building materials. A giant in natural clay production, the company is the world’s largest producer of kaolin, a white clay used in the production of paints, plastics, adhesives, porcelain, paper, rubber, and textiles.
“To force the relatives of our servicemen and women fighting the war in Iraq to mourn their loss under a headstone supplied by a company with French allegiance is an insult that no American soldier or their family should be forced to endure,” McInnis wrote in a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi released Wednesday.
McInnis says there is no shortage of quality marble without French ties. He pointed to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, which was produced with marble from the now sparsely-populated mining town of Marble, Colo., which is in McInnis’s district. The Lincoln Memorial also used marble from that mine.
McInnis’s office also cited two non-French owned companies as alternatives: Sierra Minerals Corp., which uses a mine owned by Switzerland-based OMYA AG, and the Vermont Quarries Corp. which is owned by two Italian companies, RED Graniti and Mazzucchelli Marmi.
Blair Jones, a spokesman for McInnis, said the congressman was preparing a “Dear Colleague” letter about the headstones.
An official with the company said that cancellation of the contract would only hurt American marble producers.
“Georgia Marble Co. is an American company, which produces white marble from Tate, Georgia,” said Katie LaFiandra, vice president for human resources for the Americas for Imerys. “It employs 130 Americans in Tate, and we’re proud of our participation with the Veterans’ Department… The ultimate parent of the company is Imerys, which is publicly owned and traded on the Euronext exchange. We think it’s unfortunate to put political views into the business world at this point.”
— Jim Geraghty, a reporter with States News Service in Washington, D.C., is a regular contributor to NRO.