President Trump takes part in the groundbreaking of Foxconn’s new site in Wisconsin with Chairman Terry Gou and former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Photo: Brian Cassella/TNS/Newscom

A recent freedom of information request by the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin revealed that EPA officials under pressure from President Trump, overruled concerns of career scientists about air pollution and public health in an effort to help Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn secure $4 billion in tax breaks to build a flat-screen factory in Racine County, WI.

The EPA Had Previously Recommended labeling Racine County as violating federal air quality standards for ozone in 2017 but after appeals from then-Governor Scott Walker (R) suddenly ignored evidence and ruled in 2018 that Racine was in compliance with the ground-level smog standard. This meant that Foxconn didn’t have to spend millions to install state-of-the-art pollution controls at its manufacturing plant.

Scientists were completely taken aback by the decision. EPA scientist Lars Perlmutt wrote to his colleagues last April in regard to his agency’s decision to delist Racine to say “My background is in air pollution health effects and more specifically on acute exposures, so for me personally this is hard to digest and support.”

So what now? According to the Chicago Tribune: 

“Faced with a legal challenge from environmental groups and a coalition of cities and states, including Chicago and Illinois, federal lawyers are having second thoughts about Pruitt’s controversial decision. In a few densely worded paragraphs buried at the end of a 63-page document, attorneys for the EPA and Justice Department asked a federal appeals court this month for what, in legal terms, amounts to a do-over.”

Why This Matters: As Reuters explained, “Racine County has suffered some of the state’s worst cases of smog, also known as ozone, pollution that causes premature deaths from lung and heart complications.” Foxconn promised to bring 13,000 jobs to Racine and President Trump was looking for the positive PR rather using the power of his office to protect Americans from harmful pollution. Regardless of the fact that the manufacturing surge experienced under Trump seems to be cooling (largely due to his trade war), dirty industries should be pushed to clean up their act, innovate, and not get carte blanche to pollute our air and water. In the long run, are the lives lost due to air pollution (a lethal killer) worth a temporary bump in jobs?

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