By Lucas Vebber
WMC Director of Environmental & Energy Policy and General Counsel
This column was published in the 2017 edition of Wisconsin Business Voice.
In Wisconsin we love our outdoors. Our state parks are a draw that nowhere else can match. Our natural beauty contributes to our strong tourism industry and Wisconsin’s high quality of life. As we continue to see investment flow into Wisconsin, it is also clear that our state’s natural resources also give us a competitive advantage over other states and other countries when it comes to economic development.
When we combine our state’s strong business climate, skilled workforce and access to critical resources, Wisconsin presents an opportunity for investment that no other state can match. From abundant water supplies to some of the largest untapped ore deposits in the world, Wisconsin has a lot to offer. With the right regulatory framework we can grow our economy while continuing to improve our environment for future generations.
We need to look no further than the proposed Foxconn project to see this in action. Wisconsin is located on two of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. Fresh water is a critical component of the advanced manufacturing process being proposed in southeast Wisconsin—and fresh water is something Wisconsin has nearly abundant access to.
In the legislative changes to attract this generational investment, some modest changes were made to our state’s environmental permitting laws. Within the proposed electronics and information technology manufacturing zone, Wisconsin-specific red tape was cut, existing carve outs were expanded and minor changes were made to our state’s wetland permitting laws. Importantly, the legislation maintained all existing standards for water quality, air quality and solid waste. It also required a 2:1 mitigation for any impacted wetlands—significantly higher than what’s required under state law. These changes ensure our environment will continue to improve while we reap the benefits of this once-in-a-generation economic development opportunity.
Anti-development activists have been stepping up their rhetoric to attack projects like the proposed Foxconn development. Using over-the-top fear tactics and misleading statements, these activists are trying to drive public opposition to business development. The truth is that Foxconn will have to meet the same stringent environmental standards as every other business in Wisconsin. The investment made for this project will be felt around the state for years and years to come.
Maintaining a balance that allows our resources to be utilized while protecting them for future generations is critical to economic growth and development. It’s important to note that Wisconsin manufacturers have been working for generations to grow our economy and protect our environment. As some of the most heavily regulated business entities in the world, Wisconsin manufacturers have literally spent billions of dollars on pollution abatement and regulatory compliance. Every day manufacturers are innovating to protect our state’s natural beauty while growing our manufacturing-dependent economy.
As Wisconsin continues to grow our economy and attract investment, we can continue to do so in a way that protects our environment while opening our doors to economic development. The two are not mutually exclusive. Through common sense regulatory policy we can make sure future generations enjoy the same natural beauty that we do today, while leaving them with an even better economy.