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The state offered $3 billion in incentives and exempted the plant from the state’s wetlands regulations and an environmental impact review. In luring Foxconn, Wisconsin beat out many of its Great Lakes neighbors — Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania also vied for the plant. The company has pledged to hire 3,000 people in Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district in a largely rural part of the state with a struggling economy. But the company needs more than just a wealth of manufacturing workers. Making LCD panels also requires large volumes of clean water: The plant is seeking approval through Racine’s water utility to drain 7 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. But other Great Lakes states are questioning the legality of the deal, and some environmentalists say it could create a slippery slope that will allow other outside interests to tap into lakes. Environmentalists object to Wisconsin leaders allowing Foxconn to skirt some environmental regulations, and they worry Racine’s wastewater treatment center won’t be able to treat all the pollution from the plant before releasing the water back into Lake Michigan. Perhaps the biggest question, however, is whether the deal violates the Great Lakes Compact, a 2008 deal signed between the eight Great Lakes states and whose governing body includes Ontario and Quebec. The agreement aims to keep Great Lakes water from being diverted to areas far beyond the Great Lakes Basin, but it also requires that any water that is diverted be used to serve mainly the public, not industry. “There had been musings in years past done by water-thirsty states out West that the way to solve the water problem is to build pipelines to Lake Superior,” said Bill Davis, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club, which is opposed to the Foxconn project. “If you undermine the compact, you potentially lose the ability to prevent things like that from happening.” The Foxconn plant is set to be built in Mount Pleasant near Racine, not far from the Great Lakes Basin. Racine is requesting 7 million gallons of lake water a day, of which 6 million would go to the plant and 1 million would go to other commercial and industrial users. That’s not enough water to trigger a review by the rest of the Great Lakes states in the compact, under which one state’s “nay” would be enough to veto the project.
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