RE: Foxconn Environmental Permitting
Since the announcement of the Foxconn project there has been a lot of misinformation, hyperbole and heated rhetoric used by those who opposed this historic investment. Much of the misinformation has centered around the environmental aspects of the project. This memorandum is intended to provide a brief overview of the key issues surrounding the environmental aspects of the project.
The legislation aimed at spurring the Foxconn project allowed the State of Wisconsin to establish what is known as an “Electronics and Information Technology Manufacturing Zone” (EITMZ). Within the EITMZ certain processes and permitting requires were modified, but absolutely no air or water quality permits or standards were changed or eliminated in any way.
1) Air and Water Quality Permitting. Businesses in the EITMZ are required to obtain the exact same air and water quality permits as everyone else in the state of Wisconsin, and must abide by the exact same limits/standards as everyone else. No exceptions were made in any way.
Foxconn applied for, and was granted, four air permits. The process used was the same as for any other air permit in the state, and was done in a very public and transparent manner (including a public hearing in Racine, and the acceptance of public comments, and DNR response to those comments).
2) Wetland Permitting. To help expedite projects in the EITMZ, certain changes were made to a subset of our wetland laws. To better understand this, it is important to know that there are two sets of wetland laws: state and federal. Federal wetland laws apply universally across the country to wetlands that are connected to a navigable water (the vast majority of wetlands). Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that goes further than the federal law and requires a permit to fill non-navigable, isolated wetlands. The legislation allows for the fill of such a non-navigable isolated wetland within an EITMZ without first obtaining a permit, but still mandates mitigation of such wetland losses on a 2:1 basis. This means for every acre of non-federal wetlands that are taken in an EITMZ, two acres must be created. This is significantly higher than what is required by our current laws for other projects around the state. No changes were made in anyway to federal wetland permitting.
3) Water Use. The Racine Water Utility initially applied for permission to supply up to 7 million gallons per day of Lake Michigan water to the new manufacturing facility. In May, Foxconn announced plans to install a $30 million state-of-the-art Zero Liquid Discharge system that would reduce virtually all discharges of water and significantly limit their water usage down to about 2.5 million gallons per day, an amount consistent with other large manufacturing facilities. All remaining wastewater would be treated by the Racine Wastewater Utility to meet the same stringent standards as every other discharger in the state.
4) Stormwater Runoff. There have been individuals and groups at the national level, and in particular the State of Illinois, who have also been attacking this project claiming that it will somehow lead to mass flooding. It is important to note that in addition to requiring nearly twice as many new wetlands to be created than a typical project; absolutely no exceptions were made to any stormwater standards. Businesses in the EITMZ must meet the same state and local stormwater infiltration and collection standards as everyone else in the state of Wisconsin.
5) Environmental Impact Statement. Finally, one of the other flash points for opponents of this project was that it was exempted from the need to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An EIS is not a permitting document, it contains no standards and it is not enforceable. It is a summary prepared at the beginning of a project that outlines what permits may be needed at some future point. Preparing an EIS is both costly and time consuming – without having any regulatory purpose or direct environmental benefit or protection.
Elimination of the EIS requirement for the project simply helped streamline and expedite the project. 100% of the environmental reviews required by air and water quality permitting still had to be (and were) conducted prior to the issuance of permits.
By Lucas Vebber, General Counsel and Director of Environmental & Energy Policy, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce