‘Foxconned’ into harming the environment

Gaining a few jobs in the short term is not worth paying an environmental price.

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Then-president Donald Trump, center, along with then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, left, and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou, at a groundbreaking event for the new Foxconn facility in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin, in 2018.

Then-president Donald Trump, center, along with then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, left, and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou, at a groundbreaking event for the new Foxconn facility in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin, in 2018.

Evan Vucci/AP Photos

The Foxconn debacle in Wisconsin should serve as a reminder not to give away the store on environmental issues in the hopes of getting an economic boost.

Foxconn promised in 2017 to create 13,000 well-paying jobs and invest $10 billion in a 20 million square-foot facility to build giant video displays. As it turns out, the company has only hired a few hundred workers doing light manufacturing.

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To get those jobs, Wisconsin thumbed its nose at seven other states and two Canadian provinces that should have been consulted and authorized Foxconn to take 7 million gallons of additional water each day from Lake Michigan. Moreover, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt exempted Racine County, where Foxconn is located, from federal smog standards. In addition, Foxconn was not required to get the usual water pollution permit for discharges into local waterways, and communities downstream from the site worried about increased flooding.

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The long-reaching environmental impact of those decisions remain, even as the promised jobs never materialized.

As a nation, we must to take the long view: Gaining a few jobs in the short term is not worth paying a hefty environmental price. Over time, the economy and human health depend on a vibrant environment. That’s especially true as our country seeks to dodge the worst effects of climate change.

A new book by journalist Lawrence Tabak, “Foxconned: Imaginary Jobs, Bulldozed Homes, and the Sacking of Local Government,” lays out how state and local governments in Wisconsin unnecessarily used eminent domain to take homes and farms for a plant that turned out not to need all that land. Taxpayers were hit up for unneeded new roads. Thousands of acres of land now sit empty. The total cost to government is estimated at close to $1 billion.

The book is yet another reminder of how poor decisions in the past cause environmental problems today. Public officials at every level must be vigilant to avoid repeating these mistakes.

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