Top Evers Aide Says Foxconn Air, Water Permits Deemed 'Appropriate'
A top aide to Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday he believes all of the state permits issued to tech giant Foxconn have been reviewed by the state Department of Natural Resources and deemed appropriate.
Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan also said the state planned to meet with Foxconn in the next several days to learn more details about the company's plans for Wisconsin, saying the project has been "cloaked" with uncertainty.
Evers said last month that he had directed the DNR to review Foxconn's air and water permits, saying it was something the people of Wisconsin were concerned about.
Speaking after a Wispolitics forum in Madison, Wis., on Thursday, Brennan indicated that the review had been completed and the permits were in order.
"I believe that all of the permits that have been issued to date, that all of those, they did an audit of those permits and all were deemed to be appropriate to that time," Brennan said.
A spokesman for the DNR did not respond to an email seeking confirmation of Brennan's remarks, but an employee of the agency told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the review had been completed.
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in a statement Thursday the governor had been consistent in calling for the highest possible environmental protections.
"It was a matter of due diligence for him to ask that the Department of Natural Resources re-review previously-issued permits to ensure they met that standard," Baldauff said. "Moving forward, we expect that additional permits will be required as Foxconn finalizes its plans, and those permits will be issued in accordance with the highest possible environmental protections."
Brennan said precisely which permits Foxconn would need going forward would depend on what it planned to build at its plant near Mount Pleasant.
In 2017, the company promised to build what's known as a "Generation 10.5" manufacturing plant that would produce some of the latest and largest liquid crystal displays.
But earlier this year, Reuters reported that Foxconn wouldn't build any televisions in Wisconsin, quoting Louis Woo, a special assistant to Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou, who cited the steep costs of manufacturing TV screens in the United States.
"In terms of TV, we have no place in the U.S.," Woo told Reuters in January. "We can't compete."
Just days later, Foxconn announced that after speaking with President Donald Trump, it would build televisions in Wisconsin after all, only now it was planning on a so-called "Generation 6" fab facility that would build smaller screens.
Brennan said Thursday it was important to get the specifics of Foxconn's plans soon.
"The next phase of their air and water permits would really be based on what the physical project is, and because that's really been kind of amorphous, there really has been little for the DNR to respond to in terms of the building program there," Brennan said.
Brennan said it was too soon to tell whether Foxconn would ever fulfill its pledge to create 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin.
"I think that if you have lived in the uncertainty that has cloaked this for the last 18 months, it's hard for anybody to be certain," Brennan said. "That does not mean, however, that the state isn't working with (the) full-throated support of all that needs to happen in order to get things done."
Brennan also announced Thursday that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., working in concert with the Evers administration, had hired Sam Rikkers to a position Brennan called the state's "Foxconn quarterback."
Rikkers worked previously for the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and before that in various roles for the Obama administration. Brennan said Rikkers will begin his new job as "State Economic Initiatives Director" on Monday.