Trump Tower Sued for Non-Compliance with Clean Water Act

Katelyn Scott
Senior Editor
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2019

Trump Tower is one of many buildings along the Chicago River that uses river water for its cooling systems. Trump Tower is the second largest intake system from the river. Illinois Attorney General, Madigan, filed a lawsuit against the property to ensure that such a large quantity user is not allowed to continue to violate the law. As the value of riverfront property rise, and development continues, enforcement of these types of permits is likely to increase.

Trump Tower’s Compliance

Trump Tower had an NPDES permit that authorized the building to discharge heat into the river, under guidelines created by the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act requires polluters to file for a permit from the state to pollute; this application goes through a public comment and is approved by the state based on water standards created on a federal level. The property takes in almost 20 million gallons of water a day then releases it all back into the river at a higher temperature. Madigan states that the permit for Trump Tower expired nearly a year ago and that the property has been in violation of the Clean Water Act since expiration.

Environmental advocacy groups allege that the tower committed ongoing violations of the regulations requirement to use protective measures to minimize damage. The regulations further require polluters to submit data on its procedures to determine if the facility is doing too much harm to aquatic life; Trump Tower’s submissions are unaccounted for. The latest draft permit would allow the property three more years to submit the studies.

According to the environmental groups, Trump Tower has never complied with the regulations. The Sierra Club and Friends of Chicago River intent to sue filed in June 2018 details violations back to the construction of the building in 2005. Filing of the intent to sue is required under the Clean Water Act to provide 60-day notice to both the government agencies involved and the polluter. The groups have not stated whether they will continue with their own lawsuit now that Madigan is pursuing the case as well.

Madigan previously brought a complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board about Trump Tower for permit violations of their cooling system. The organization settled, agreeing to pay a $46,000 fine and to come into compliance with the law.

Chicago River from Blight to Bright

Chicago River has a complex history with pollution, such that the city had to reverse the river to get rid of heavy pollutants. In more recent years, the city has invested more in infrastructure along the river, and more projects have begun to spring up along the waterway. Many give credit to the continued cleanup of the river as the reason for the shift in the view of the river from a barrier to an asset.

Continued cleanup has motivated developers to create a lively walkway along the river and engage with the river in a new way. Friends of the Chicago River Executive Director Margaret Frisbie stated that the egregious violations by Trump Tower “fly in the face of the momentum and investment surrounding a vibrant, healthy, revitalized Chicago River.” This supports the idea that action against violators along the Chicago River is likely to rise and Trump Tower may just be the first. Madigan further stated that disregard for wildlife and the river’s ecosystem in violation of the law contributed to the reasoning behind her filing; while the Trump Organization believes it is all political because these matters generally are managed on the administrative level.

The new rise in development and further planned development down the south branch will force properties to be aware and careful of their violations. Enforcement is likely to increase with the increase in the value the river adds to areas throughout the city.