State News

Evers questions Foxconn water, air quality permits

Gov. Tony Evers directed environmental officials to review air and water quality permits previously issued to Foxconn as the debate between industry and environment took center stage.

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Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday he is directing Wisconsin environmental officials to review the air-quality and water permits issued to Foxconn Technology Group. The permits in question were granted last year to allow construction of the $10 billion Foxconn campus in Mount Pleasant.

According to Evers, the process used in issuing last year’s permits was flawed. Following environmental scientists’ projections of the manufacturing campus, which signified a substantial new source of smog, Racine residents expressed concern, he said.

“Clearly that’s one area the people of Wisconsin were concerned about, is air quality,” Evers said.

According to company documents filed with the state Department of Natural Resources, the ozone pollution expected out of Mount Pleasant’s Foxconn campus will be represented by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as nitrogen oxides (NOx). 

DNR figures illustrated that Foxconn would become the region’s top polluter. The additional VOCs to be produced by Foxconn would compound the summer smog problems the Racine area already reportedly faces due to its positioning between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Due to the campus’ location on top of a watershed divide, the impacts Foxconn could create for the surrounding Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds are just as concerning, according to UW-Madison Associate Professor of Geography Morgan Robertson. 

“In general, if you put a huge impermeable surface on a watershed divide that is already slow to drain you’re going to dramatically increase storm flows into areas like Kenosha. With the increasing severity of extreme climate events you’re going to have more stormwater to manage,” Robertson said. “I would worry first on the effect of stormwater management downstream, and the side effect of that is water quality.”

Robertson raised concerns regarding parking lots, building surfaces and pipe run-off that could impact the water quality of surrounding areas. 

However, Evers’ actions in hindering Foxconn’s development could consequently threaten the outlook for future employment in the area, risking potential jobs for an anticipated 13,000 people. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, stated Evers’ activity in halting business for environmental reasons will send a “chilling signal” to Wisconsin’s manufacturing industries including Foxconn. As such, after a conversation between President Trump and Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, the company decided to build a smaller complex than originally planned.

Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, continue to prod Evers, stating Gou’s newfound reluctance in employing Wisconsin residents can be attributed to Evers’ policies.

“[It is] a sign the company is reacting to the wave of economic uncertainty that the new governor has brought with his administration,” Vos and Fitzgerald said in a joint statement. 

The struggle between business and environmental sustainability continued as Other Wisconsin environmental groups attempt to tackle the issue of balancing environmental and business sustainability, including Alliant Energy Senior Resource Planning Consultant Tyson Cook. 

“We are not opposed to industrial development. We are not opposed to Foxconn,” Cook said in a statement for Clean Wisconsin. “But the Clean Air Act was set up to deal with major sources coming into an area with bad air.”

Meanwhile, Foxconn officials expressed Tuesday that the company “is fully committed to being a responsible corporate citizen and complying with all relevant federal, state and local rules and regulations that apply to our operations.”

Evers promised to commence a thorough overview to protect Wisconsin's quality of life and environment in evaluating Foxconn’s permits. However, it is unclear how much could actually come from this. 

“If you’re Foxconn, you don’t start until all your permits are in order … theoretically,” Robertson said. “Evers can’t do a lot about the environmental permits that have already been issued except to say ‘can we review these to see if they were properly done?’”

According to statements released Tuesday, Foxconn is under the impression that business will continue as usual even after the review of permits.

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