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Trump Tower in Chicago sued for failed compliance with environmental laws

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//October 2, 2023//

Trump Chicago

Trump Tower in Chicago. Staff Photo Steve Schuster

Trump Tower in Chicago sued for failed compliance with environmental laws

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//October 2, 2023//

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On Thursday, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul amended a lawsuit his office filed in 2018 against 401 North Wabash Venture LLC (Trump International Hotel & Tower, known as Trump Tower).

According to the amended complaint obtained by The Wisconsin Law Journal, the downtown Chicago property known as “Trump Tower” has allegedly continued to break environmental laws through what authorities say is a “significant underreporting” of the average daily volume of water it discharges into the Chicago River, in violation of environmental laws and Trump Tower’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

“Even after the state of Illinois took steps to hold Trump Tower accountable for violations of state and federal environmental laws, violations have continued – underscoring a disregard for the laws and regulations that are in place to protect our waterways and aquatic life,” Raoul said.

“I am committed to enforcing our environmental laws and ensuring that all entities are held accountable for violations of those laws,” Raoul added.

In 2018, the Illinois Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against Trump Tower alleging violations of both the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations. The lawsuit stated Trump Tower failed to obtain the necessary permit and submit information monthly to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), as required by the Clean Water Act, to demonstrate compliance with federal regulations relating to the building’s operation of a cooling water intake system.

Also in 2018, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River filed an intervening lawsuit against Trump Tower regarding continuing violations of the Clean Water Act and Public Nuisance.

According to Illinois officials, Raoul’s office and the parties later entered into an agreed interim order that required Trump Tower to follow the terms of its expired NPDES permit and report the average daily volume of heated water it discharges into the Chicago River monthly. Trump Tower had  been submitting the monthly discharge monitoring reports (DMR) since 2013, as required by its first NPDES permit, authorities noted.

While Raoul’s lawsuit was pending, an expert witness for the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River examined raw data provided by Trump Tower during discovery and compared it to the DMR data. The comparison showed a “significant discrepancy” between the flow data recorded by the building’s automated system and the DMR data Trump Tower reported to the IEPA, prompting the Attorney General’s office, as well as the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River, to file amended lawsuits. Attorney General Raoul’s lawsuit continues to seek to prevent further violations of state environmental laws, as well as civil penalties.

Raoul’s lawsuit is based on a referral from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Previously, in 2012, the Illinois Attorney General’s office filed a complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board alleging that Trump Tower was releasing heated water into the Chicago River without an NPDES permit. The matter was settled, and Trump Tower was ordered to obtain an NPDES permit, pay a fine and comply with environmental laws. The building sought a modified NPDES permit in 2013 after initially misreporting the amount of water being withdrawn and discharged into the Chicago River each day.

According to authorities, Trump Tower, located along the Chicago River, operates a cooling water intake system capable of pulling more than 20 million gallons of water in from the river per day to cool the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. Due to the amount of water the building takes in daily, federal law requires extensive studies of Chicago River fish populations and the impact of the building’s water intake system.

The Clean Water Act regulates cooling water intake structures because they can pull large volumes of fish into a building’s cooling system. Fish and other aquatic organisms can also get trapped against intake screens.

Supervising Attorney Elizabeth Dubats, Senior Assistant Attorney General Christopher Grant and Assistant Attorneys General Rebecca Kanz and Molly Kordas are handling the case for Raoul’s Environmental Bureau.


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