Illinois AG to sue EPA over ozone regulations for Wisconsin

Says ruling allows Foxconn to avoid installing stringent emission controls

The site Foxconn Technology Group has selected for its 20 million-square-foot campus.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:12 pm

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Friday announced she plans to file a lawsuit challenging a recently issued ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that significantly reduces the area of southeastern Wisconsin that would face stricter air pollution regulations.

The site Foxconn Technology Group has selected in Mount Pleasant for its 20 million-square-foot campus.
Curtis Waltz/Aerialscapes.com

Areas near Lake Michigan in Kenosha, Ozaukee, Sheboygan, Manitiowoc and northern Milwaukee counties, plus the northeastern tip of Door County, have failed to meet the EPA’s ozone standards and will be subject to the tougher air quality rules, the EPA ruling says.

However, all of Racine County was deemed by the EPA to be in “attainment” with the agency’s new air quality standards and therefore not subject to the stricter rules. That was considered noteworthy by many because of plans for the massive Foxconn complex in Mount Pleasant. Had the county been labeled as in non attainment, it would have been more difficult and costly for Foxconn to get the air emission permits required to begin construction.

In a news release, Madigan’s office said the EPA ruling would allow “proposed massive Wisconsin Foxconn plant to pollute air.”

“Despite its name, the Environmental Protection Agency now operates with total disregard for the quality of our air and water, and in this case, the U.S. EPA is putting a company’s profit ahead of our natural resources and the public’s health,” Madigan said. “I will file a lawsuit to protect the environment and people from the consequences of this unsupported decision.”

In the news release, Madigan said the EPA deemed Racine County in attainment “despite indisputable pollution monitoring data showing Racine County exceeds ozone levels beyond the 70 parts per billion (ppb) limit. Racine County recorded average ozone levels of 74 ppb from 2015 through 2017. A non-attainment designation would require the (Foxconn) plant to install the most stringent pollution control equipment.”

A representative for Wisconsin Manufacturer’s & Commerce said Illinois officials should worry about their own state’s pollution.

“The state of Illinois is the single largest contributor to ozone pollution in Racine County, and contributes about double what Wisconsin contributes,” said Lucas Vebber, general counsel and director of environmental and energy policy for Wisconsin Manufacturer’s & Commerce. “Interestingly, the Illinois AG left that information out of the press release. Yet AG Madigan is going to sue EPA because they want Wisconsinites to be punished despite the fact that only about 12 percent of the total ozone detected in the county comes from sources within the entire state of Wisconsin.”

Madigan plans to file her lawsuit challenging the final rule in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit within 60 days of the final rule being published in the Federal Register.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently approved air emissions permits for Foxconn. BizTimes reported in March the company’s proposed emissions would represent a roughly 6 percent increase in Racine County emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, both precursors to ground-level ozone. But the DNR’s analysis determined the combined impact of Foxconn’s nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds would not contribute to a violation of emissions standards.

The lawsuit by Madigan will be the second action she has taken related to the Foxconn project. In March, she submitted comments to the Wisconsin DNR expressing concern about Foxconn’s water use and how wastewater from the manufacturing plant will be treated. The DNR recently approved the city of Racine’s plans to divert an average of 7 million gallons of Lake Michigan water outside the Great Lakes basin with most of it going to support Foxconn.

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.