Foxconn Water Request Violates Law
Company wants massive diversion of Lake Michigan water. But DNR won't oppose it.
You have until March 21 to send the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources your thoughts – – email, regular mail directions, here – – on the application to the DNR for the green-light to divert 7 million gallons a day of Lake Michigan water to GOP Gov. Scott Walker‘s beloved, budget-busting project for Foxconn – – a private business headquartered in Taiwan.
This is the same project financed with record-breaking state subsidies organized by Walker and his compliant, GOP-led state legislature where excavation, paving and building on 3,000 acres of Racine County farmland, wetlands, lake beds and stream courses has been exempted through precedent-setting special-interest legislation from routine state environmental assessments and permit requirements.
So, yes, it’s important to send in your comments and build a strong record in favor of water conservation and Great Lakes integrity — despite plenty of reasons to believe that the approval is in the bag.
The diversion application – – to be reviewed by, and receive its up or down ruling from, the DNR and only the DNR – – also seeks DNR approval for Foxconn’s flat-screen panel production processes to consume about 40 percent of its daily diversion of water, with the balance returned to the lake properly treated.
Here’s an overriding thought about all this to consider:
* The application has a fundamental credibility problem.
Because the DNR has a credibility problem, having been stripped of authenticity and respectability by a Governor who intentionally installed across top management positions a ‘chamber of commerce mentality.‘
He also cut its budget, laid off scientific staffers and generally trashed its mission to erase its legacy and weaken its relationship with the public and devalue its importance to individuals by creating in its place — a hybrid agency — part Department of Agriculture, part Department of Commerce,
Or opposing Tiffany’s separate bill Walker also recently signed to allow companies to begin very toxic mining statewide that had been barred for the last 20 years.
So you can see why the DNR — this weakened, circumscribed and beaten-down iteration of a once-proud science and conservation-minded agency — is absolutely the wrong body at the wrong time to be asked to objectively assess whether diverting all that water to serve one private business meets the rules of a multi-state Compact created to allow such diversions for extremely-limited and public purposes only:
Jodi Habush Sinykin, an attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates, said the Great Lakes Compact bans diversions outside the Great Lakes basin unless they meet narrowly defined exceptions. She cited section 4.9.1 of the compact that states “all the water so transferred shall be used solely for public water supply purposes within the straddling community.”
The compact further defines “public water supply” as serving “largely residential customers that may also serve industrial, commercial and other institutional operators,” Sinykin said.
“Rather, the complete opposite is true,” she said. “Racine will use the majority, if not the entirety, of the diverted Great Lakes water to serve the industrial needs of a single, private, foreign industrial entity – Foxconn.”
The DNR should also be reviewing the company’s industrial-scale addition of chemicals to its manufacturing and wastewater treatment processes and the potential impact on the environment. But the DNR as it exists today is in no position to do this, as was explained by Gordon Stevenson, an engineer and former DNR Chief of Runoff Management who now serves Midwest Environmental Advocates as board secretary. At an MEA program in May, 2016, Stevenson said, in part:
For the majority of my career, water policy decisions were based on the strong bond between law and science, the people in charge of making those decisions had conservation and environmental protection credentials, and my colleagues and I shared the belief that Wisconsin’s true and sustaining wealth is its clean water.
Much of that is now changed at DNR. Wisconsin DNR’s water quality permit program has been found seriously deficient by the US Environmental Protection Agency. DNR is failing to protect downstream water from upstream pollution sources, they are allowing already impaired water bodies to get worse and they are suppressing the public’s ability to challenge water quality permit decisions.
Wisconsin DNR’s authority to protect Wisconsin’s water resources is delegated from EPA. Under the delegation agreement, DNR is obligated to administer the federal Clean Water Act. DNR is not doing so. On behalf of 16 Wisconsin citizens, Midwest Environmental Advocates has filed a Citizens Petition for Corrective Action with the US Environmental Protection agency to correct these deficiencies. The petition seeks to restore the credible water quality protection program that we once had in this state.
We’re arriving at an important crossroads in Wisconsin. We have our own version of Flint, Michigan in Kewaunee County where citizens cannot drink the water and we have our own version of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. A dead zone now also exists in Green Bay that runs from the City of Green Bay all the way up to Marinette…
Water policy decisions should be based on the strong bond between law and science, that the people in charge of making water quality decisions should have the credentials to do so, and that Wisconsin’s true and sustaining wealth is its clean water.”
In an email to me after his remarks , Stevenson also said:
In addition, DNR management has made it clear to staff that environmental advocacy is no longer the core mission of DNR and staff are disallowed from doing so. What was once a guardian of Wisconsin’s natural heritage is now reduced to a rubber-stamping vendor of licenses and permits without oversight.
Also consider similar, expert remarks from a current staffer included in a 2017 assessment of the DNR on this blog:
The past year has really shown me how the GOP is afraid of and caters to their wealthy donors – some of whom aren’t even that generous. It was obvious before but this year has been brutal. DNR administrators support any development project regardless of environmental impacts. They are not interested in the environment or public health. If they can’t maneuver around the law by bending it, the legislature simply changes the law.
Rich Republican donors feel free to call up the DNR Secretary and Governor and demand that their projects go through. This puts pressure on legislators and DNR upper management. It has created an atmosphere of desperation at all levels of the DNR.
I have witnessed administrators simply ignoring valid environmental and legal concerns from experienced, competent employees and I have seen administrators ignoring the process for determining environmental hazards when granting permits. It is true that DNR doesn’t follow their own processes and skirts the law when possible.
The Secretary’s office seems to have a lot of power. And when that power is wielded by an incurious, pro-business person, bad things happen. So far, even in his short tenure, Dan Meyer has proven himself to be the same as Cathy Stepp.
The only real check on unbridled donor power is the citizen groups and nonprofits who sue. Most of these groups are focused on local problems so it is difficult for the average person to know what damage is being done to other parts of the state.
This, then, is the disemboweled agency that will decide whether Foxconn should be allowed to divert and consume so much of Lake Michigan’s water. The Foxconn diversion review is likely to be nothing more than a done-deal kabuki show ruling in the company’s favor.
- Foxconn Will Make 10K Ventilators - Corri Hess - Jun 19th, 2020
- Medtronic and Foxconn Partner to Increase Ventilator Production - Foxconn Technology Group - Jun 18th, 2020
- Foxconn Audit Delayed Two Months - Erik Gunn - Jun 3rd, 2020
- Back in the News: Foxconn’s Profits Plunge By 90% - Bruce Murphy - May 19th, 2020
- Foxconn to Assemble Procedural Masks in Wisconsin for Pandemic Relief - Foxconn Technology Group - Apr 20th, 2020
- Murphy’s Law: Foxconn Squeezes Evers - Bruce Murphy - Apr 15th, 2020
- Foxconn Says It Earned Tax Credits - Corri Hess - Apr 9th, 2020
- Back in the News: Foxconn Plant Will Make Ventilators - Bruce Murphy - Apr 8th, 2020
- Op Ed: Foxconn Facility Could Help in Pandemic - James Rowen - Mar 29th, 2020
- Op Ed: The Foxconn Road to Ruin - James Rowen - Mar 9th, 2020
Read more about Foxconn Facility here