Tony Evers says state environmental officials will review Foxconn air quality permits

February 5, 2019

Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday that state environmental officials will review air-quality permits issued to electronics maker Foxconn last year for its planned $10 billion campus near Racine.

Evers told reporters he discussed the topic with Foxconn officials but doesn’t believe the company is concerned.

“Clearly that’s one area the people of Wisconsin were concerned about, is air quality,” Evers said.

Evers’ comments clarify what he told reporters Friday, after a series of reports suggesting the company’s plans for Wisconsin were in flux.

During the campaign Evers warned that scientists told him a flawed process was used to issue the Foxconn air-quality permits. The company’s plan to build a manufacturing facility in Mount Pleasant would make it one of the largest sources in southeast Wisconsin for pollutants that create smog. The region already suffers from summer smog problems, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, meanwhile, said Tuesday that Evers’ plan to cap a state tax break for large manufacturers could send a “chilling signal” to Foxconn and other businesses.

Vos told reporters he spoke to Foxconn officials about a month ago.

“I have told them that ... I could not see any reason why we would be changing this tax structure to get rid of that incentive for anybody in manufacturing,” Vos said.

Foxconn officials did a highly public back-and-forth last week on the company’s plans to build a campus in southeast Wisconsin that could employ as many as 13,000 workers.

Foxconn officials initially said that they no longer were planning to build a factory in Wisconsin. By Friday the company walked that back, signaling they will build a Wisconsin factory — albeit a smaller one than originally planned — after a conversation between Foxconn CEO Terry Gou and President Donald Trump.

Republican legislative leaders, meanwhile, blamed Evers for the wavering by Foxconn officials. Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement Wednesday that the Foxconn changes were “a sign the company is reacting to the wave of economic uncertainty that the new governor has brought with his administration.”

Asked Tuesday how he knows what the company is reacting to, Vos cited a news report published Thursday, a day after he issued the statement. The report was from the Asian business-news site Nikkei Asian Review.

The report cited three unnamed sources saying the Foxconn changes came after Evers’ administration officials sought to renegotiate “side deals” made with the company by former Gov. Scott Walker.

An Evers spokeswoman said last week that claims Evers “tried to renegotiate the Foxconn contract are false.”

“So perhaps the only mistake that was made was believing the media, maybe I should’ve known better,” Vos said.

In April Foxconn got permits from the state Department of Natural Resources for air quality and to withdraw millions of gallons of water daily from Lake Michigan for their proposed plant to manufacture liquid crystal display panels. The permits were issued under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, chief architect of the state’s $3 billion taxpayer-subsidized package for Foxconn.

Evers said during the campaign that scientists have told him the Foxconn permit-approval process was flawed, though he did not specify what problems occurred with the process. Evers told the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board in October that he would be willing to rescind the permits if additional review found Foxconn not meeting air-quality standards.

Speaking Tuesday, Evers said he doesn’t believe state DNR officials have begun reviewing the Foxconn air permits yet. He said the review was discussed with Foxconn “the very first time we talked to them, we talked about the fact that there may be a review of that.”

Still, Evers insisted Foxconn officials weren’t worried.

“I think Foxconn believes that they’ve done what was asked of them,” Evers said.

Foxconn officials issued a statement Tuesday saying the company “is fully committed to being a responsible corporate citizen and complying with all relevant federal, state, and local rules and regulations that apply to our operations.”

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