Revisiting the Foxconn Great Lakes Water Diversion in Wisconsin
By Jim Olson
Last summer I wrote about a Wisconsin administrative judge’s ruling that the diversion of 7 million gallons a minute — or 2 billion gallons of Great Lakes water per year — to the private corporation Foxconn to build a 22 million square-foot plant for 13,000 jobs should not qualify as a “public water supply”.
FLOW filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing in support of Wisconsin citizens and organizations that the Foxconn diversion was not exempt from the Great Lakes Compact, because it did not constitute a public water supply. Under the Compact and Wisconsin law, public water supply means “primarily residential” customers. To ensure a public service and purpose, the law and anti-diversion Compact are quite clear: If it’s not for many people who live in a straddling community but outside the basin, the water of the Great Lakes cannot be diverted. The law is also clear that it cannot be diverted for private purposes.
What happened in the Foxconn case was politics, plain and simple. Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker teamed up with the Taiwanese multinational electronics manufacturing company to commit $3 billion and 2 billion gallons of Great Lakes water for Foxconn’s promise of a 22 million square-foot facility and 13,000 jobs. Every business has to plan and decide for itself whether to build, finance, and operate an expansion. But 2018 was an election year, and Walker dangled everything he could to stir excitement for Wisconsin’s citizens. He rode the promises of Foxconn for tax base and jobs. Walker, a Republican, lost to now Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat. Foxconn didn’t uphold its part of the bargain with Walker. The company has downsized its facility to 1 million square feet, will offer a small fraction of the jobs, and will need much less water.
But no one has asked the real question: What do taxes, jobs, and transferring billions of gallons of Great Lakes water outside the Basin have to do with public water supply? What does this have to do with public services or public purpose? The answer is nothing.
The question now is: What is Governor Evers and Wisconsin citizens, and those of us in the Great Lakes Basin going to do about it? Under Scott Walker, Wisconsin bent the law and the Compact, but the new administration hasn’t done anything to remedy that. It’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and protect the waters of the Great Lakes from becoming a subsidy and reservoir for private corporations outside the Basin.