Activists attack Wisconsin's Foxconn deal as harmful to wetlands

(Reuters) - Activists on Tuesday attacked Wisconsin’s plan to waive environmental reviews for Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn’s proposed $10 billion LCD flat-screen factory, calling it a roadmap to destruction of precious state wetlands.

The logo of Foxconn, the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, is seen on top of the company's headquarters in New Taipei City, Taiwan March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

Environmental groups, including Midwest Environmental Advocates and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, said the state’s proposal rolls back protections for wetlands, which act as natural filters for drinking water and wildlife habitats, and protect against flooding.

“It’s hard to throw a rock without hitting a wetland,” said Ryan Billingham, spokesman for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

“It’s shocking to us in its extreme,” he added of the state’s proposed plan.

Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd 2317.TW, hopes to open the plant in 2020 at a 1,000-acre site in southeastern Wisconsin. It will initially employ 3,000 people but that number could rise to 13,000, according to Foxconn and to Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker.

Foxconn is a major supplier to Apple Inc AAPL.O for its iPhones, but the company has not said if the Wisconsin factory would produce any parts for Apple.

President Donald Trump, who has suggested the deal would not have happened without his efforts, said he was told by Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou that the investment could be larger than $10 billion.

“He told me off the record, he thinks he may go to $30 billion,” Trump said at a small business event at the White House on Tuesday of Foxconn’s investment.

“I promised I wouldn’t tell,” Trump said to laughter.

Foxconn had no immediate comment.

State officials also emphasized the job creation, including an expected 22,000 ancillary and 10,000 construction jobs.

“We can preserve our natural resources & help businesses create jobs, economic opportunity for the people of WI. The two aren’t incompatible,” Tom Evanson, spokesman for Walker, said on Twitter.

Walker ordered the Republican-controlled state legislature into special session on Tuesday to consider the package. Legislators said a public hearing will be held Thursday and a vote could occur this month.

The draft bill allows Foxconn to discharge dredged or fill material into some wetlands without state permits. The legislation also would allow Foxconn to connect artificial bodies of water with natural waterways without state permits.

Gou told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Wisconsin was appealing in part because of its proximity to abundant fresh water from Lake Michigan.

“New business is great, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of our water and air,” Clean Wisconsin said on Facebook.

Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Additional reporting by David Shepardson and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; Editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis