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Environmentalists rip proposed Foxconn permit rollbacks (UPDATE)

By: Associated Press//July 31, 2017//

Environmentalists rip proposed Foxconn permit rollbacks (UPDATE)

By: Associated Press//July 31, 2017//

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Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin conservationists warned Monday that Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to exempt a proposed Foxconn electronics plant from certain environmental regulations would leave the public in the dark about the plant’s likely effects, endanger wetlands and set an alarming precedent.

President Donald Trump announced last week that Wisconsin had won a high-stakes interstate battle for the $10 billion plant. Plans call for building a 20 million-square-foot plant on a 1.56-square-mile campus somewhere in southeastern Wisconsin. The company hasn’t selected an exact location but is eyeing sites in Racine and Kenosha counties.

Spurred by Foxconn’s promise to create as many as 13,000 jobs, Walker’s office released a bill Friday that would hand the company $3 billion worth of incentives. The bill includes provisions that would lift the requirement that state agencies prepare environmental-impact statements on plant construction and operations.

The measure would also exempt Foxconn from obtaining state permits for a wide range of activities, including filling in wetlands, building on lake or river beds, changing the course of streams, building artificial water bodies that connect to existing waterways and modifying shorelines. The state Department of Natural Resources could choose whether to require Foxconn to get permits for bridge and culvert construction.

Sarah Geers, a lawyer for Midwest Environmental Advocates, said environmental-impact statements provide the public with a detailed, wide-lens analysis of a project’s likely effects, enabling builders and government officials to find ways to mitigate any that might be harmful. Without such analyses, there will be no real way of knowing what consequences the plant might have for the environment.

Even if the changes proposed by Walker were adopted, Foxconn would still need permits to fill in federal wetlands. The state exemptions could result in a loss of state wetlands, though, the conservationists said. That could result in poorer water quality, more flooding and the loss of wildlife habitat around the plant.

What’s more, the governor’s proposal invites other states to gut their environmental laws to attract industry, said John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment America.

Walker’s office referred questions to a DNR spokesman, James Dick. He said eliminating environmental-impact statements will speed up construction on the plant. Since Foxconn has yet to select a site, no one can say for certain now if any wetlands will be affected, he said.

The company would still have to obtain state and federal air, water quality and waste permits, Dick added. Those applications require a public-comment period, allowing people to stay abreast of developments, he said.

The governor signed an agreement with Foxconn on Thursday calling for the Legislature to approve the incentive package by Sept. 30.

A public hearing on the bill could come this week. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said last week he would like to have the Legislature vote on the bill in mid to late August.  A spokeswoman for Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said no timeline had been set yet for taking up the bill.

Sen. Mark Miller, a Monona Democrat who sits on the Senate’s natural resources committee, said the bill would give away too much to a company that hasn’t always lived up to its promises. Foxconn in the past has pledged to build plants around the world only to back out later.

“The governor has been suckered once again,” Miller said. “He’s gone and bet the farm on this one big deal with a company with an unreliable record.”

An email sent to Foxconn’s general media inbox seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.


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