Friends of the Chicago River and Sierra Club Illinois Intend to Sue Trump International for Additional Clean Water Act Violations

Friends of the Chicago River and  Sierra Club Illinois  have served a Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue Trump International for additional violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. For over a decade, Trump Tower Chicago has underreported the rate at which it withdraws water from the Chicago River in reports required by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), resulting in an underreporting of its withdrawals by approximately 44%. 

In August 2018, the Illinois Attorney Genreal filed suit against Trump International alleging it is endangering fish and other aquatic life in the Chicago River. Discovery in Friends of the Chicago River and Sierra Club Illinois' ongoing 2018 case against Trump Tower, along with submissions from Trump Tower to the IEPA, revealed this latest ongoing violation.

Friends of the Chicago River and Sierra Club have repeatedly asked Trump International to clearly explain the flow rate discrepancies. Trump International has been largely unresponsive, and any statements in response have been inconsistent and unclear.  

“Trump International’s persistent and systemic misrepresentation of its flow rates and violations of the Clean Water Act cannot be allowed to continue,” said Friends of the Chicago River Executive Director Margaret Frisbie. “Friends of the Chicago River and Sierra Club are filing a second suit because the amount of intake water actually being used is much higher than Trump International reports, and the damage to fish and other aquatic life is commensurate. Trump International’s egregious mis-reporting is not in line with the significant public investments that have dramatically improved the health of the Chicago River over the past several decades, and we cannot allow Trump International to endanger that critical progress.”

IEPA requires that flow rate data be submitted in gallons per day, but Trump International reports a gallons per minute number that it multiplies by 1,000 and labels as gallons per day. Of course, there are not 1,000 minutes in a day—the conversion should be 60 minutes per hour x 24 hours per day; there are 1,440 minutes in a day. This misreporting dates back as far as February 28, 2013. 

"In the existing litigation, we've been looking at the environmental impacts of Trump Tower's water withdrawal from the Chicago River and when our expert simply double-checked Trump Tower's arithmetic, this inconsistency jumped off the page," explains Rob Weinstock, Director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and counsel to Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River. "It is a violation of the Clean Water Act to make misrepresentations in reporting to the state agency, plain and simple."

“Particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s recent weakening of the Clean Water Act, it’s more critical than ever to do everything we can to protect Illinois’ waterways,” said Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin. “The Chicago River provides Illinoisans with opportunities to fish and recreate, businesses along the Riverwalk to boom, and space for wildlife habitats to flourish. Corporations like Trump International must be held accountable when they flout the Clean Water Act and put their profits ahead of our waters and our communities.”

Friends of the Chicago River and Sierra Club Illinois are represented in this action by Albert Ettinger, as well as the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School and the Environmental Advocacy Center at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.