PRESS EDITORIAL: The art of the Foxconn deal: environmental giveaways

Based on his success in persuading Foxconn Technology Group to build an enormous electronics manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker might want to follow Donald Trump’s lead and write a book about making deals.

In his book “The Art of the Deal,” Trump credits his success in making real estate deals to thinking big and acting tough.

In his hypothetical book, Walker could credit his Foxconn success to his tactic of giving the people he’s negotiating with everything they ask for and then giving them some more.

The governor promised Foxconn $3 billion in incentives funded by taxpayers to build its plant in southeastern Wisconsin and then threw in a goody basket full of free passes to avoid compliance with state environmental rules.

The environmental incentives were so generous that they included concessions beyond what Foxconn asked for, according to news reports.

An Ozaukee Press editorial last year supported Walker’s Foxconn initiative, reasoning that the opportunity to bring an employer promising 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin had to be pursued by a state that is lagging badly behind its neighbors in economic development and job creation. 

The editorial supported economic incentives, but added that the state “must not cave on environmental standards,” saying protection of Wisconsin’s natural resources should not be on the bargaining table. “A gift of $3 billion is enough. Giving away some of the health of the state’s environment is too much.”

We suspect the governor is not an avid reader of Ozaukee Press editorials, but similar warnings about the risk of damaging the state’s water, air and land resources posed by environmental giveaways made to woo Foxconn came from a number of sources. How did that work out? Not well.

The Walker administration’s response was to exempt Foxconn from a list of environmental protection rules and allow the company to: discharge dredged materials or fill wetlands without permits both during construction and when the plant is operating; ignore the law that requires businesses to create new wetlands when they destroy existing wetlands; build on a lakebed or stream or change the course of a stream without permits; begin construction without filing environmental impact statements.

No business deserves a license to violate environmental laws, but Foxconn is an especially dubious candidate. The plant it proposes to build near Racine is said to be the size of three Pentagons. Talk about environmental impact! The plant would use a high volume of chemicals that are harmful to the environment in making liquid crystal display panels and would discharge a large amount of water used in production. The company has a record of polluting waterways in China.

There’s more. Documents filed with the Wisconsin DNR show that the volume of toxins released into the air by Foxconn would rank among the highest in southeastern Wisconsin, exceeded only by three coal-fired power plants. The toxins would include volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, the major ingredients of the health-threatening ozone that plagues counties on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, including Ozaukee. The plant would also discharge tons of carbon monoxide, particulants and sulphur dioxide, according to the documents.

It is not a surprise that Gov. Walker has asked the Trump administration to waive ozone restrictions that were created by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 to address air pollution in the Lake Michigan corridor.

Lake Michigan figures into Foxconn’s plans in another way. The plant will need 7 million gallons of water per day and the company wants to get it from Lake Michigan. The City of Racine is willing to provide it but is not allowed to without the permission of the Great Lakes Compact because part of the plant would be located outside of the Great Lakes watershed.

At a DNR hearing in March, citizens questioning the water diversion pointed out the compact requires that lake water diversions be used primarily for residential customers and voiced worries about chemical pollutants in the 4 million gallons of wastewater Foxconn would return to the lake each day. The governor, representing Wisconsin as a member of the Great Lakes Compact, will doubtless vote in favor of the diversion.

It remains to be seen whether the governor’s attempt to have Foxconn exempted from the latest federal ozone rules will be granted (it’s likely) and whether Racine’s petition to take Lake Michigan water for Foxconn will be approved (it’s hard to say). But in any case Foxconn should be made to comply with whatever state and federal environmental laws are still applicable when the giveaways in the governor’s art of the deal finally end.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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