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Foxconn - Environmental Law Exemptions

— An international electronics manufacturer plans to build a factory in Mount Pleasant, WI after state legislators exempted the company from state environmental protection laws.

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This page is up to date as of June 7, 2018.

On Wednesday, April 25, 2018, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved the City of Racine’s proposal to divert up to 7 million gallons per day of Great Lakes water to Foxconn’s manufacturing plant. The Wisconsin Compact Implementation Coalition, of which MEA is a member, submitted comments to the DNR during the public comment period and recently submitted a letter asking the Governors and Premiers of the Great Lakes States and Canadian Provinces to formally review the City of Racine’s proposal for itself.

On Tuesday, April 24, 2018 the DNR also approved air pollution control permits for the construction of several of the facilities at the Foxconn plant, including a Flat Panel Display Fabrication Facility, an Energy Facility, and the Assembly Plant. The public comment period for the draft permits closed on April 16, 2018. MEA signed on to Clean Wisconsin’s comments on the proposed permits.

The DNR has a business resource page dedicated to the Foxconn project. For issue-specific information, refer to the air, water use, wastewater, and wetland tabs at the bottom of the website.

Case Summary

Foxconn Technology Group (Foxconn), a large multinational electronics manufacturer, is planning to open its first U.S manufacturing plant in Racine County, Wisconsin. The plant will produce liquid crystal display (LCD) panels for products such as flat-screen televisions and other large electronic devices. In order to attract the company to the state, Wisconsin offered Foxconn and incentive package that will cost the public up to $4.5 Billion.

The proposed project area spans nearly 3,000 acres in the Village of Mount Pleasant. Foxconn’s initial plans indicate that it will construct dozens of buildings in the project area totaling 20 million square feet of building space. These buildings will include Flat Panel Display Fabrication Facility, an Energy Facility, and an Assembly Plant.

A project of this scale and type will leave a large environmental footprint. The production of LCD panels typically utilizes harsh and toxic chemicals that could have a harmful effect on the air and waters surrounding the complex. Construction of the various buildings around the proposed campus will result in the filling of wetlands, which could increase flooding problems in the area and reduce wildlife habitat. Additionally, the amount of water necessary to fabricate these panels will require a diversion of Lake Michigan water referenced above.

The State of Wisconsin has exempted the Foxconn project from several state environmental regulations, including the law requiring the State to prepare an assessment of the overall impact of the project on the human environment (referred to as an Environmental Impact Statement). However, Foxconn will still need to obtain a number of permits and approvals from the DNR before it can begin operating:

Approval to Divert Great Lakes Water:

The DNR approved the City of Racine’s application to divert up to 7 million gallons per day of Great Lakes water to Foxconn’s manufacturing plant and the surrounding area. The DNR decided that the proposal meets the strict standards for granting an exception to the Great Lakes Compact’s ban on diversions.

The Compact Implementation Coalition (“CIC”) submitted comments to the DNR, asking the DNR to deny the City of Racine’s proposal because the diverted water is not going to be used for “Public Water Supply Purposes” as the Great Lakes Compact requires and because the City of Racine has not disclosed important information about the potential environmental impacts of diverting the water.

The DNR held a public meeting on Wednesday, March 7th, addressing Racine’s application to divert 7 million gallons of water per day. Citizens voiced their concerns about the water being used for private benefit, and what pollutants might remain in the roughly 4 million gallons that Foxconn will return to Lake Michigan. The meeting was also covered by the Racine Journal Times, Wisconsin State Journal, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. By the end of the public comment period, over 800 stakeholders submitted comments to DNR, raising significant concerns or questions about the application’s failure to satisfy key provisions of the Great Lakes Compact and lack of information about potentially harmful environmental impacts of the diversion.

Air Pollution Control Permits:

The DNR resources page states that, “Owners or operators of industrial sources that emit pollutants to the atmosphere need to get an air permit.” The DNR approved Foxconn’s four air permits, which are all considered part of the same project at a single facility. As previously mentioned the public comment period closed on April 16, 2018 after a public hearing occurred on April 3, 2018. These permits must comply with federal and state standards. More information is available on DNR’s business resource page dedicated to the Foxconn project. 

Storm Water Permits:

To adequately protect the quality of surface waters, groundwater and wetlands, Foxconn must obtain construction and industrial storm water permits. On Monday, April 23, 2018 the DNR granted Foxconn’s application for coverage under a Construction Site Storm Water Runoff Permit. Milwaukee BizTimes reports that Foxconn will need 62.5 acres of storm water basins to manage storm water runoff. More information is available on the DNR’s Foxconn website in latest new section.

Pretreatment Permit:

According to the DNR, Foxconn will not need a traditional water pollution permit for end-of-pipe pollution discharge into area waters. Instead, Foxconn says that all the campus’s wastewater will go to the City of Racine, who will treat water prior to any discharge. This will require Foxconn to obtain a pretreatment water permit from the City of Racine. For more information, visit the DNR’s Foxconn website referenced in latest news.