Thursday, July 12, 2018

SE WI needed the environmental review Foxconn escaped

The Journal Sentinel published yesterday in its hard copy edition an op-ed - - 
Foxconn remains committed to environment 
- - by Louis Vebber, the environmental spokesman for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

It was a rebuttal to an earlier op-ed by David H. Petering, UWM distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry:
Even before it's built, new Foxconn plant is out of date by environmental standards
Vebber helped convince the Legislature to exempt the project from an environmental impact statement (EIS) analysis not uncommon for a large project with so many land, air, wetland and water implications, calling it little more than "a book report" and onerously expensive.

A few things about Vebber's op-ed which opened this way:
Foxconn is one of the best things to happen to Wisconsin’s economy since statehood 170 years ago. 
OK, I get that we're in Trump's Hyperbolic Times, but let's not forget some of the other big but perhaps unappreciated developments in Wisconsin during Vebber's time frame that had massive economic benefits but didn't require environmental favors, legal exemptions, and record-breaking subsidies, if any.

* Consider that the typewriter was invented in Milwaukee in 1868. I don't have time to tease out the jobs, profits and spinoff inventions that follow typewriting to word processing to keyboarding, at say, Apple or Microsoft, et al, but it's significant.

* Ditto for the science produced, beneficial products that followed, decades of research underwritten and lives lengthened and saved by the invention of milk irradiation at UW-Madison in 1928 that led to the eradication of rickets.

*  Maybe the industry could quantify the full economic benefit of the invention in 1912 of Joseph Schlitz's brown bottle that led to an extended shelf life for bottled beer. 106 years times how many multi-billions of bottles sold...?

* What's been the value in dollars and lives produced by the heart bypass operation pioneered in Milwaukee in 1968 by the surgeon Dudley Johnson? As with the typewriter, et al, did you know the heart bypass was a local, Wisconsin development?

And anyone want to take a shot at the value added to Wisconsin by what we might call 'The Curly Lambeau-Vince Lombardi Effect?' You know what I mean

The same way you might want to correctly acknowledge today's great Wisconsin athletes by remembering the giants who preceded them, like Henry Aaron and Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In other words, know your history, and put today's shiny object into perspective. 

And if that's a bit too-off-subject, too, and you want to focus on jobs and public spending, remember that Walker and his WEDC made big promises not that long ago to Superior when they threw a lot of state money and prestige at an airplane maker named Kestrel.

Former Capital Times reporter Mike Ivey was dogged on the story.

Kestrel produced broken promises instead of airplanes in Superior, notes this April industry update.
The state of Wisconsin could be just days away from launching legal action against One Aviation unit Kestrel Aircraft to recover an estimated $3.6 million in combined delinquent state, county, and local loan payments made to the company since 2012, when it agreed to develop and build the K-350 single-engine turboprop in Superior, Wisconsin... 
The Wisconsin package for Kestrel included a $2 million loan from WEDC in 2012 and another $2 million federally funded state small business credit incentive loan; Kestrel has repaid approximately $865,500 on the former. The company also owes the city of Superior $2.2 million and Douglas County $500,000...
Had the Kestrel K-350 actually entered production and the estimated workforce of more than 600 been hired, [state backed tax credits] could have amounted to close to $20 million in state job-creation tax credits. But Kestrel's payroll never reached one-tenth of that and the actual employment tax credits paid topped out at just over $700,000. Another part of the deal, for up to $90 million in federal tax credits facilitated by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), collapsed, with Kestrel only receiving about $9 million of those credits...
WEDC spokesman Maley concedes that the state will be “lucky to get any money back.” 
Now, back to environmental impact statements,(EIS), which have been grounded in law in Wisconsin for decades, with these public-interest goals
This act requires the DNR and other state agencies to gather relevant environmental information and consider it in their decision-making under their other statutory authorities. Agencies must also look at appropriate alternatives to the particular course of action they are proposing. The principle that broad citizen participation should be part of environmental decision-making was also established by WEPA [Wisconsin Environmental Protection Act].
You might take a look at the EIS created for the Kohler golf course project which would be built on 247 privately-owned acres and perhaps five or so acres of state park land - - or on one-twelfth of the acreage ticketed for Foxconn, and without billions in public subsidies. 

The Kohler EIS covers numerous issues with public impacts, so is far more  than just a list of potential permits, though permits are covered.

And note also that the process opened the door to hundreds and hundreds of citizen comments, and to a continuing hearing procedure that is a gesture to a more-leveled, more-democratic policy-making playing field- -  and it is this element of public participation that was defeated by the lack of an EIS.

You might also take a look at the history of another EIS, this one for a 26,000-hog feeding operation within smelling distance of Lake Superior. The EIS has not been completed yet because the Iowa company seeking permission to open the facility stopped sending the DNR answers to its basic questions.

Interesting, no?

And remember that the controversial Gtac open-pit iron mine which would have blown and dug up the Penokee Hills for miles across northern Wisconsin forests and wetlands never reached the EIS stage because the company's preliminary reviews found what critics had been saying over and over again - - that there was too much groundwater on the site to allow safe and sane mining.

The point is that the EIS process is there for good reasons, and Foxconn's being allowed to skip it bodes ominously for the air, water and people in the area, downstream and downwind. It's like telling your surgeon to go ahead and do your intestinal surgery without those pesky MRI's, x-rays and CT scans.

One more thing.

Vebber glosses over some potential air pollution issues by focusing on only about a quarter of the plant's projected annual emissions - - about 172 tons
also mentioned in a business publication, here - - while not mentioning balance of the other emissions.
Smoke stacks from a factory.  And Vebber points to a projected gain in air quality for the region despite the opening of the Foxconn plant because a coal fired power plant in the area is scheduled to shut down.
...the shutdown of the power plant will take more than 2,200 tons of nitrogen oxides out of the air, meaning a net reduction in the area of more than 2,000 tons of nitrogen oxides.
While that's good news, two things:

1. Air quality over and near Foxconn's site would be even better of Trump's EPA hadn't acceded to a Walker push for yet another exemption.

2. From all the WMC's efforts to fight Obama-era clean air initiatives - - here or here, for example - - you'd never know that burning coal was anything but virtuous.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for pointing out this clear example of the lie of objective journalism. Anyone following Journal Communications, then Scripps, and now Gannet/USA Today knows that the overwhelming presentation of noooze in MJS and almost all Wisconsin media is pro-republican biased to outright-promotion.

The public has even been propagandized to accept that "of course newspapers overwhelmingly support republicans!" as if its somehow a result of their accurate and honest reporting. Nothing is farther from the truth. The consist biases are intentional, sometimes in-your-face, and sometimes subtle.

So here we see how how the lie of "balance" is played. An op ed appears that can be resonably verified as accurate -- the sky is blue. Then an op-ed appears that is intellectual dishonest -- the sky is green. Both are presented as valid and "objective" reports (at least in this case, each is labeled per your report as an "op-ed").

Real journalism would never be about letting one side proclaim falsehoods. It would be a search for what is reasonably and objectively true. You are doing that with this post.

However, the fact is that MJS is recklessly disregarding the truth and doing so under powerful propaganda of "both sides of the story". Shameful, but this is what MJS has done for Walker's entire career. They used to do it in tandem with the state's most powerful radio station and literally blanket all of eastern Wisconsin with disinformation that dishonestly promoted everything out-of-state corporate interests want from the citizens of Wisconsin.

I guess if you choose to buy the MJS print edition, that's your choice -- fine. Their business model, however, has been selling propaganda disguised as noooze. Almost every dishonest statement you identify in the op-ed has also been published by MJS as "objective" noooze. This is what allows them to now repeat the lies over and over again -- this time, labeling each as an "op-ed" and hiding behind the lie of objective journalism.

We all know who MJS, including is predecessors and almost all Wisconsin media, endorses and promotes each and every year for generations now. These op-eds are the tip of the iceberg. MJS has been lying about Scott Walker and now Foxconn nonstop -- in this example, they pretent to be on the high-road.

Because, of course, they are only presenting "both" sides of the story. BARF!

James Rowen said...

To be clear, both op-eds are opinion pieces, not staff-generated stories.

Anonymous said...

While both are op-eds and are clearly identified as such, both are based on information that directly or indirectly comes from staff-generated stories. If journalism is about identifying truths, and that is clearly now what we see across Wisconsin, the labeling something an op-ed is not an excuse to spew falsehoods to justify an opinion.

These dual op-eds illustrate the intellectual dishonesty at MJS. Regularly reading the web/paper will confirm an ongoing and one-sided bias. While many see Politifact as a good thing -- real journalism should not require a special feature to cherry-pick political statements as true or false.

Without the pro-Walker propaganda lead by MJS and WTMJ-AM, there would not be the illusion of an all-powerful Governor Walker. The lies reported as news there are picked up by the mighty Wurlitzer that blankets Wisconsin and then the lies get used to write dishonest op-eds.

People have a right to their own opinions, yes, op-eds; but not their own "alternative" facts. The mighty Journal Communications was brought to its knees by its shameless pro-Walker bias. Gannet cannot escape responsibility for the propaganda it publishes by falsely claiming lies in one op-ed balance the facts in another.

But my point isn't to deny MJS opportunities to publish op-eds. The disinformation in one of these op-eds is regularly presented as news elsewhere in the publication. More importantly, every lie uttered by Scott Walker is presented uncritically as news with no fact-checking at all. Politifact is a gimmick, as any real journalism should have assessed accuracy when an item was reported as noooze.

And this isn't about sloppiness, oversight, or honest mistakes; because the inaccurate information consistently skews to Walker and GOP.