A proposed Racine, Wis., liquid crystal display (LCD) factory would divert up to seven million gallons of Lake Michigan water daily. Wisconsin state and local leaders, with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency support, have greenlighted next steps toward construction of the $10 billion factory.

The factory would be developed, owned and operated by Foxconn Technology, a Taiwan-based company, which will receive a $3 billion incentives package that was authorized by the Wisconsin legislature. Among the company’s U.S. customers are Amazon, Apple, Google, Intel, Microsoft and Motorola. While the company operates a number of factories around the globe, the Racine factory would be its first in the U.S.

In response, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. EPA, which has exempted Racine County in Wisconsin from federal air quality requirements for ozone. Reuters reports that if Racine County had not been exempted by the U.S. EPA, under Administrator Scott Pruitt, the factory would have been required to install extensive pollution control equipment.

The Illinois Senate Environmental and Conservation Committee passed a resolution urging “Illinois agencies to take whatever actions possible to protect against the loss of water resources, the potential flooding, and other ecological impacts from this development.”

The likely impact of the development may also violate interstate and international agreements, which detail management and use of the Great Lakes’ water resources. These agreements involve the U.S. states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as Ontario and Quebec.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has argued that the factory would bring up to 13,000 jobs to his state. He tweeted last Thursday, praising Wisconsin workers for their role in bringing the factory to his state and the benefit that Foxconn will offer younger workers. “Our highly-skilled, dependable workforce is one of the reasons Wisconsin won Foxconn. Now, the company is investing in our state’s young talent to ensure continued and future success. This is another Foxconn Bonus!”

Environmental advocates around the Great Lakes have expressed concern, including the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes. Jennifer Caddick, Vice President of Communications and Engagement at the Alliance, said the current administration in Wisconsin “has not exactly been a friend of [environmental] rules and regulations in the state. When its legislature passed the incentives package to encourage Foxconn to build in Wisconsin, they also included some rollbacks and weakening of rules, particularly related to Wisconsin wetlands, which is where Foxconn will be located.”

Ms. Caddick said that it is, “important to remember that a smart business will understand the value of clean water and clean air for the state, its employees and neighbors. We hope that as Foxconn moves to the Midwest and begins tapping the resources that the Great Lakes have to offer . . . that it will take steps to protect them.” She also said that the process has a long way to go and that the Alliance and its partners are looking at ways to ensure that the factory will cause the least amount of damage possible – and that people all over the region are paying attention and asking questions. “People in the Great Lakes Region deeply care about protecting the lakes. They know it is their drinking water and that without regulation they are at risk.”

Ned Schaub

Ned Schaub is a feature story writer for the RoundTable. He has served as reporter, content developer and communications manager across his career in the field of nonprofit communications. Ned studied...