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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Small Crowd Gathers For Public Hearing On Air Permits Requested by Foxconn


About four weeks ago so many people crowded the SC Johnson iMet Center in Sturtevant, they had to be shuttled in from a nearby movie theater parking lot.

The topic of that hearing was the City of Racine’s request to divert Lake Michigan water so that Foxconn can pump up to 7 million gallons a day to feed its water-intensive manufacturing system.

On Tuesday the DNR gave people a chance to have their say about the rules Foxconn must follow if granted air permits for the massive plant.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
Kristin Hart (center standing) with the DNR chats with attendees before the hearing begins.

“Foxconn is proposing for Mount Pleasant a manufacturing facility for liquid crystal display screens. It’s a very complicated process that does produce air pollution. In fact, these facilities will be considered a major source of air pollution,”  Kristin Hart said. She's section chief of the DNR’s Permits and Stationary Source Modeling.

Hart said the federal Clean Air Act provides the framework to regulate Foxconn’s emissions and acknowledged concerns some have expressed about Foxconn’s potential contribution to ozone levels. She said it’s not as simple as measuring what comes out of a smokestack.

“It is not emitted from a facility directly. Instead ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides come together and mix then sunlight knocks around the oxygen and forms the ozone. Ozone is an acidic compound like an acid, it’s not good for the lungs and when it’s down at ground level it causes all sorts of problems.” Hart added, “Which is why the Clean Air Act regulates it.”

Hart’s presentation was followed by a flood of support for Foxconn from local business leaders and elected officials. They say they’re confident that the company will not pollute the air.

David DeGroot is president of the Village of Mount Pleasant. That’s where Foxconn will reside.

“I care about the quality of the air. I live here, this is my backyard too. I’m proud of the work that has been done at the local, state and federal levels to ensure air quality standards are heavily regulated and I sincerely believe Foxconn will be a great local partner in doing everything it can to minimize and mitigate its impact on the environment,” he said.

Ryan Brath chimed in. He’s president of a Racine-based company that produces high-speed spindles used for aerospace. “More jobs and more opportunity in this area means more investment in training programs, resulting in an increased labor pool of skilled workers. That’s a win for every local manufacturer. With the right safeguards permitted and regulated by the DNR, Foxconn is good for the community and should be supported."

Air quality specialist Don Canaperolli concurs. He led the team that prepared Foxconn’s air permit application.

“A rigorous air dispersion modeling analysis has also been performed using conservative worse-case assumptions that project the plant’s emissions will be at levels protective of public health and the environment.” Canaperolli added, “With an adequate margin of safety.”

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
Louise Petering (seated left) and Nora Kelly with the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin look on as Steve Baas with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce endorses Foxconn's air permit request.

Just two voices of concern rose during Tuesday’s public hearing, both belonging to members of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

One of the speakers, Louise Petering, worries about Foxconn’s emissions.

“Eight counties along Lake Michigan currently experience ozone levels that regularly hover around or exceed the national ambient air quality standards,” Petering said. “Foxconn’s emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic chemicals will push ambient levels of ozone to consistently higher and unhealthy levels.”

Petering urged the DNR to find out all of the chemicals Foxconn will be emitting, both regulated and unregulated.

“We hope that all of those compounds fall within the Clean Air Act and Wisconsin regulations, but we are unsure that that is the case. If they do not fall within those regulations, the public needs to be notified as to what those specific chemicals are,” she added.

People who want to weigh in on Foxconn’s air permits can do so until April 16 when the business day ends.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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