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Trump heading to Wisconsin for groundbreaking of controversial Foxconn factory

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

President Donald Trump is heading just north of the Illinois border Thursday to break ground for a massive Foxconn electronics factory that could bring 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin, but also faces opposition from environmental groups and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Madigan is expected to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks challenging a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule change allowing the Taiwanese manufacturer to skirt air pollution standards for a plant planned for Racine County.

“Despite its name, the Environmental Protection Agency now operates with total disregard for the quality of our air and water quality and, in this case, the U.S. EPA is putting a company’s profit ahead of our natural resources and the public’s health,” Madigan said in a statement last month.

Environmental groups are expected to make their way to Racine to protest current plans for the factory.

At the White House last July, Trump announced plans for Foxconn Technology Group to build a factory that would manufacture liquid crystal display panels. Foxconn has agreed to invest up to $10 billion in the plant, which, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is expected to take about two years to build.

The factory complex is expected to have as much floor space as about 130 Walmart supercenters, according to the Journal Sentinel.

“This is great for American workers and manufacturing and for everyone who believes in the concept and the label, made in the USA,” Trump said at the event, which featured Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou.

Gou, whom Trump called “one of the great businessmen anywhere in the world,” has told the Journal Sentinel that the company chose southeastern Wisconsin in part because Milwaukee is the center of the U.S. and that Chicago is a global hub. He also noted southeastern Wisconsin’s proximity to O’Hare Airport.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has called the factory “great news for Wisconsin,” noting “Illinois lawmakers should take notice.”

Walker said during the White House announcement that other states beyond his own would likely benefit.

“We’re going to need people from all across the state of Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest to help us out,” Walker said, referring to the estimated 10,000 construction jobs.

Critics have said the facility comes at too high of a cost — Wisconsin is set to provide about $4.5 billion in state and local incentives if it meets investments and job-creation targets.

And then there are the environmental concerns.

Madigan has threatened to sue, saying the EPA is giving Foxconn a break on smog standards in Racine County, even though air pollution in Racine County already exceeds government standards.

Many other environmental groups have weighed in, concerned both about the air standards and the large amount of water the factory plans to pull from the Lake Michigan watershed.

“We are concerned that air quality will get worse rather than better if the Foxconn facility is built as proposed and the EPA allows Wisconsin to weaken the clean air standards,” said Howard Learner, executive director of Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based environmental protection and economic development advocacy organization.

Learner said his organization is “potentially preparing” legal action.

Learner said that state of Wisconsin is “looking at inconsistent data to allow ozone problems to be dismissed for the Racine area that includes the Foxconn facility.”

Earlier this month, Foxconn said it would install a $30 million water recycling system at the factory. Through a distillation process, the system eliminates wastewater during manufacturing and allows the factory to recycle the water on site, dropping water use about 50 percent daily, the Journal Sentinel has reported.

A spokeswoman with Gov. Walker’s office, which negotiated the deal with Foxconn, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Contributing: AP