EDITORIAL: A big factory gets to pollute, and you get to wheeze

SHARE EDITORIAL: A big factory gets to pollute, and you get to wheeze

Foxconn was expected to invest $10 billion in its Wisconsin plant to make LCD panels that are used in televisions and computer screens. | AP file photo

If you run a restaurant and pile up a lot of trash — plastic forks, empty cans, chicken bones and old grease — you can’t just throw it over the fence into your neighbor’s yard.

You have to pay a garbage service to haul it away.

What’s true for a little restaurant should be true for the big boys, too, like Foxconn, the electronics giant that plans to build a factory across the border in Wisconsin.

If Foxconn makes a mess, Foxconn should clean it up.

Don’t dump it on the rest of us.


The Trump administration though, sees it differently, as it often does when it comes to protecting the air we breath and the water we drink. Putting corporate profits above your good health, the Trump administration has decided to ease up on federal limits for smog pollution up and around where Foxconn wants to build its plant.

The Trump people live in Washington, D.C., not in Lake County, Illinois, or Racine County, Wisconsin.

They don’t have to breathe the stuff.

The moment President Trump named Scott Pruitt administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in February of last year, anybody could see a disaster coming. Pruitt has never seen an environmental regulation he didn’t think was specious or a fossil fuel fat cat he didn’t think was brilliant.

No sooner did Pruitt take over the EPA than he set about weakening and reversing environmental rules. EPA scientists shuddered and quit. Our confidence that the EPA is still doing its job in the Chicago area, monitoring the toxic waste that flows into Lake Michigan and the pollution that pours from smokestacks, hovers at about zero.

Look no further for proof, before the smog ruins your view, at the gift Pruitt just handed Foxconn. On Tuesday, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, he completely exempted Racine County from federal smog standards and scaled back the EPA staff recommendations for most other parts of Wisconsin.

Pruitt is doing the bidding of Foxconn, which now is spared the cost of expensive improvements for its Racine County plant, which will manufacture liquid crystal display panels. But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who also favored relaxing pollution standards, was in on this sell-out, too.

It’s a bad turn of events for the Chicago area, flying in the face of decades of effort — often pushed by a better version of the EPA — to clean our air and protect our water. Air pollution levels have steadily declined in Chicago since at least 1998. Beach closings due to foul lake water after storms are fewer. The Chicago River, once an open sewer, now draws kayakers.

Last week, in an earlier attack on our regional natural resources, Wisconsin officials approved a request to pull millions of gallons of additional water each day from Lake Michigan for use by Foxconn. The decision, by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was made without the approval of the other seven states, including Illinois, that normally would be consulted.

Wisconsin and Foxconn did an end-run around the regional approval process by, among other dodges, claiming the water would be for a “public use.” And, in fact, a small amount of the water withdrawn will serve residential customers in the small town of Mount Pleasant, where Foxconn plans to build its plant.  The rest goes straight to the company.

Foxconn says it will employ 13,000 people, including many from Illinois.

Terrific. Welcome, neighbors. But pick up your own trash.

We have no interest in seeing Chicago and Illinois — how about you, Wisconsin? — return to those wheezy days when big factories belched pollution and ordinary people just had to take it.

And it is appalling that Wisconsin, without seeking approval from the other seven Great Lake Compact states, unilaterally gave permission to the city of Racine to suck millions more gallons of water out of Lake Michigan each day, mostly for the benefit of one big factory.

Are we in this together, or are we in it for Foxconn?

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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