Governor Walker has proposed a fast track bill that hands unprecedented autonomy to a Chinese corporation over the waters of Wisconsin. Foxconn of Taiwan proposes to build a facility bigger than 11 football stadiums to produce liquid-crystal display panels in our state. What little is known about the corporation's environmental record is not encouraging.
Walker's bill for Foxconn creates blanket exemptions to basic environmental protections. The bill removes the requirement for an Environmental Impact Statement which enables us to know how our natural resources would be affected and consider whether damages could be managed. The bill removes the requirement for a state-approved plan showing that proposed water usage is sustainable. The bill exempts Foxconn from permits that spell out limits on the damage allowed to wetlands, streams, and exposed lake beds.
Walker's bill would allow Foxconn - without permits - to discharge dredged materials, fill wetlands, change the course of streams, build artificial bodies of water that connect with natural waterways, build on a riverbed or lakebed, and use a water supply equivalent to that of a small city.
Republican legislators assure us that the federal government will provide the environmental protections needed; but the EPA, the Clean Water Act, and environmental regulations are under attack in the Trump administration. Repealing, defunding, and ignoring environmental concerns are the mantra under Trump. That leaves state environmental protections as the only realistic means to maintain water and air quality.
So, will laws be rewritten just for giant corporations, as they were for Gogebic mining? This penalizes small businesses and entrepreneurs who are required to follow the rules with no special dispensations. Or will environmental protections be wiped out across the board and mark the end of clean water and air in Wisconsin? Neither one is acceptable.
Both jobs and a healthy environment can go hand-in-hand. States with strong environmental laws do have strong economies, but it takes will and foresight to maintain both. We need to demand that Governor Walker and the Republican legislature go back to the drawing board and forge a bill that supports both jobs and a clean environment.