Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Press Release

Diversion of Great Lakes Water for Foxconn Challenged

Integrity of the Great Lakes Compact at Risk

By - May 25th, 2018 03:59 pm
Foxconn chairman Terry Gou and Governor Scott Walker signing a memorandum of understanding. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Foxconn chairman Terry Gou and Governor Scott Walker signing a memorandum of understanding. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

MADISON, WI – On Friday afternoon Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) filed a legal action under the Great Lakes Compact to challenge the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) April 25, 2018 approval of the City of Racine’s request to divert 7 million gallons per day (MGD) of Great Lakes water outside the Great Lakes Basin.

“This legal challenge is essential, as Wisconsin’s approval of the Lake Michigan water diversion requested by Racine tests the integrity of the Great Lakes Compact by ignoring a key requirement of the historic agreement entered into by the eight Great Lakes states and enacted into federal law,” states Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney, Jodi Habush Sinykin. “This mistake must be corrected to defend the Great Lakes Compact and to protect our magnificent Great Lakes in the near and distant future.”

The Great Lakes Compact’s 2008 enactment was a historic accomplishment at both the regional and national level and celebrated as a means to safeguard the world class freshwater resources of our magnificent Great Lakes. A centerpiece of the Compact, then and now, is its Ban on Diversions, reflecting the region’s determination to prohibit the transfer of Great Lakes water outside the basin unless a diversion request can meet narrowly defined exceptions outlined in the provisions and definitions of the Compact.

As set forth in the legal petition filed Friday afternoon, Wisconsin DNR disregarded and unreasonably interpreted a core Compact requirement that all water transferred out of the Great Lakes Basin must be used for public water supply purposes, clearly defined as “serving a group of largely residential customers.” As stated in the petition, the greatest majority of the 7 MGD of water requested for transfer out of basin will be used to supply Lake Michigan water to one single private industrial customer, Foxconn, in the amount of 5.8 MGD, with the remaining 1.2 MGD used to supply water to industrial and commercial facilities surrounding the Foxconn facilities. Of significance, the petition states that Racine’s diversion application identified no amount of transferred water (0 gallons) that would be used to supply residential customers in the out-of-basin portion of Mt. Pleasant subject to the diversion request.

The petitioners represented by MEA in this case are: Milwaukee Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin, and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.  The petitioners have consistently advocated for the strongest protections possible for the waters of the Great Lakes, in keeping with the spirit and the letter of the Compact.

“Milwaukee Riverkeeper has worked tirelessly to ensure protection of the Great Lakes and proper implementation of the Compact, stated Cheryl Nenn, of petitioner Milwaukee Riverkeeper.  “On this historic moment, the 10 year anniversary of Wisconsin’s signing of the Compact, we are proud to stand with our state and regional partners to bring our concerns to light around the Racine diversion approval.”

Louise Petering, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Board of Director, notes, “The proposed withdrawal will not serve primarily residential customers but is clearly earmarked for the private Foxconn industrial project. This violates the Compact and sets a precedent for multiple, non-compliant, withdrawal requests by straddling communities that lie not only along Lake Michigan’s 1,640 mile shoreline, but also along 4,530 miles of Great Lakes’ shoreline.  This precedent, if allowed to stand, undoes a core provision of the Compact, essentially unraveling the international agreement and will do undetermined damage to the sustainability of the Great Lakes.”

Adds Raj Shukla, executive director of petitioner River Alliance of Wisconsin, “The city of Racine acknowledges that the diversion is largely intended for a single foreign corporation. Within the Great Lakes Compact, eight Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, and Quebec wisely require any diversion to be primarily for residential households. Wisconsin’s approval of this diversion, for the benefit of one private company, betrays both the spirit and the letter of an agreement that protects water for all of us.”

“The Great Lakes Compact is a protective regional framework that grows more important every year as water resources become more valuable and scarce,” stated Kathryn Hoffman, CEO of Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “Actions undermining this framework threaten all of the people who depend on the Great Lakes.”

As the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, the Great Lakes are a national treasure. They house 20 percent of all freshwater on the surface of the planet, provide drinking water to 40 million people, create habitat for 3,500 species of plants and animals, and support a $4 billion sports fishing industry. The Great Lakes Compact was created to protect the Great Lakes as a vital economic and cultural resource. Experts from all over the Great Lakes region spent over 30 years working together to craft and ultimately ratify a good-faith agreement that serves to protect the Great Lakes for future generations.

A press conference will be held on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at 1:30 pm at the Jetty off of Discovery World, 500 N. Harbor Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

5 thoughts on “Diversion of Great Lakes Water for Foxconn Challenged”

  1. Geoff Davidian says:

    Until we elect state officials who don’t take money from corporate and special interests, there will just be more Foxconns. Mike McCabe is the only gubernatorial candidate who is running against the influence of money in politics, and the only one who won’t take tens of thousands of dollars from wealthy donors. As Gov. Walker has shown, once the deal is struck and the favor is granted, the rest of us get stuck with the bill and pollution, Thanks to Cheryl Nunn, Raj Shukla, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin, and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy for their initiative. Unfortunately, taxpayers will fund Walker’s defense of the deal, which benefits his cronies. McCabe met with Milwaukee representatives of the conservation and environmental groups last month to hear their concerns and restate his position that the water Walker is selling to Foxconn belongs to us all, and the state should protect it, not sell it for the benefit of the governor’s buddies.

  2. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Foxconn is the best business deal in the history of the state. We need these jobs for unemployed youth in the inner cities in Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine.
    Get them off drugs so they can buy homes, cars, have families.
    When the River Keepers become Let wing political hacks I hope their donors will realize that.

  3. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Interesting to watch folks:
    Left pushes pot, kills jobs.

  4. Thomas says:

    WCD suggests that a priority of Republicans is the creation of jobs for inner-city youth. Has he not noticed the distance Republicans have established between themselves and inner-cities for generations?

    WCD and his follower(s)? please read or re-read “The Diversion of Great Lakes Water” piece before you spew more ill will towards the perceived jobs killing left. Remember: the left promoted unions, which resulted in many jobs … many family supporting jobs. The reactionary right has routinely resented those without right wing portfolios who have earned good wages.

  5. putnampit says:

    I want to introduce some facts and analysis to the argument articulated by the writer, “Wisconsin Conservative Digest,” in support of Foxconn, even though reason is not an effective tool to thwart fallacious commentary in our post-truth era.

    1. WCD writes: “Foxconn is the best deal in the history of the state.”

    I have not had the opportunity to look at every deal in the history of the state, so let’s give the writer the courtesy of assuming the argument is well-meaning and based on an examination of every deal, public and private, involving parties associated with Wisconsin since statehood on May 29, 1848. Perhaps there is a distinction between “deal” and “outcome,” although it doesn’t matter in this case. A “deal,” according to, is “an arrangement for mutual advantage,” and a “state” is “a politically organized body of people usually occupying a definite territory; especially: one that is sovereign.” So, both Taiwan and Wisconsin are “states.”
    After what The Atlantic called “a spate” of employee suicides in 2010 at the Foxconn’s plant in Hon Hai, China, and riots at the company’s plant in Ningbo, China, Foxconn decided that workers’ dissatisfaction with monthly wages of $137 made production unprofitable.
    They looked to move to Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand or Hanoi, Vietnam, where the minimum monthly wage was $95.
    The Taiwanese company has found a labor market in Milwaukee that is more lucrative to them than Vietnam or Indonesia. So, the cost to Foxconn for setting up shop in Wisconsin is less than it would be in Vietnam, and our taxpayers are picking up the difference between labor costs here and there. Governor Walker is paying Foxconn with tax benefits, cash and fresh water, and exemption from environmental regulations. The state is also facing millions in litigation costs defending the best deal in history.
    Bruce Murphy has written this pony nearly to death in UrbanMilwaukee, yet still WCD asserts that “Foxconn is the best deal in the history of the state.”
    Last year, Murphy wrote: “In short, Foxconn will be able to operate as a kind of outlaw company that can simply ignore laws that regulate every other business or individual in the state. And that is because it promises to create up to 13,000 jobs in return for accepting $3 billion in tax subsidies or $585 per person for every adult resident in this state, not including the additional TIF subsidies, which have yet to be tallied.
    “And what guarantee is there that Foxconn will create 13,000 jobs? None. The company could collect $345 million of the maximum $1.5 billion payroll credit for just the 3,000 jobs it promises to start with and grab the sales tax exemptions and TIF subsidies while using the $1.35 billion tax credit on capital expenditures to automate the factory and gradually lower the employment even further. With no penalty. And given the company’s reputation for embracing robotics at ever[y] opportunity, that is surely the most likely result.
    “And the cost to the state under this scenario would be $611,000 per job, not counting the TIF subsidies and environmental costs.”
    Since Foxconn will not pay taxes in Wisconsin, this may be the best deal in the history of Taiwan.
    Although I do not know what the best deal in Wisconsin history is, you might agree that former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s 1987 deal to give Chrysler $5 million “and other benefits” to retrain Kenosha workers was less bad than Walker’s Foxconn “deal.” Just months after that “deal,” Chrysler announced it would close the Kenosha plant and 5,500 workers were affected. Although Thompson was humiliated, the state reached a deal with Chrysler, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, Sept. 24, 1988:
    “Gov. Tommy Thompson and Chrysler officials signed the agreement Friday afternoon. In return for an estimated $25 million, split among units of government and worker benefits, state officials agreed not to sue Chrysler for breach of contract.
    “Thompson called the agreement ‘the best achievable under the circumstances.’ A lawsuit, he said, ‘would be futile in producing any new jobs.’
    “Auto workers reacted with anger to the agreement, while local officials said it was the best deal any community had been offered over a plant closing. ‘People are very aggravated,’ said Phil Anastasi, a member of the executive board of Local 72 of the United Auto Workers. ‘There is a blatant disregard for the Wisconsin taxpayers and for those who work in the plant.’
    “Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca has said the decision to end car assembly in Kenosha at the end of the year is irreversible.”
    That deal resulted in no money paid to Chrysler.
    Before the problem was resolved, Thompson had to concede that he was played by Chrysler, who only took over AMC to get the Jeep brand.

    2. “We need these jobs for unemployed youth in the inner cities in Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine.”

    How will inner city youths in Milwaukee get to Racine? The Walker administration could not have done more to thwart the possibility of these car-less inner-city youths getting to Racine to work. Because Walker rejected high-speed rail, workers in Milwaukee will have to spend more than two hours a day in busses to work in Racine. And if the plant really creates 13,000 jobs, and institutes 12-hour shifts like it did in China (where employees revolted), half would get off and half would begin shifts at the same time. With 55 seats per bus, it will take 110 busses to move 6,500 workers, and they would be used just twice a day at shift changes.

    3. “Get them off drugs so they can buy homes, cars, have families.”

    The opioid crisis in Wisconsin will not be resolved by giving Foxconn money or tax breaks. There must be a commitment to establish more opioid treatment centers to get drug users off opioids. Then they can get jobs. And there must be a crackdown on doctors who recklessly prescribe addicting drugs. This is true not just in the inner city but across the state and nation.

    4. “Left pushes pot, kills jobs.”

    Non-sequiturs are not really arguments, are they? Pithy, sure. Astute? Mike McCabe points out that where doctors can prescribe non-addictive marijuana for pain, they can avoid opioids. And the cost to society, families and the economy is far less.

    5. “When the River Keepers become Let [sic] wing political hacks I hope their donors will realize that.”

    Although ad hominem attacks do not carry much intellectual weight, being for preservation of the environment is not left or right, unless the argument is that the right is against the environment. But that is just me. Call me in Libtard.

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