Trump Tower sued again for failing to meet EPA rules to protect fish


Donald Trump’s skyscraper along the Chicago River is still sucking in massive amounts of water without a valid permit, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office alleged Thursday in a lawsuit that accuses the former president’s organization of fudging its accounting of the withdrawals.

The glass-and-steel tower, emblazoned with a sign spelling “TRUMP” in letters more than 20 feet high, is one of the city’s largest users of river water for its cooling systems. It siphons nearly 20 million gallons a day through intakes so powerful the machines could fill an Olympic swimming pool in less than an hour, then pumps the water back into the river up to 35 degrees hotter.

In response to lawsuits filed five years ago by environmental groups and Raoul’s predecessor, Lisa Madigan, the Trump Organization agreed to complete long-delayed studies of how many fish and other aquatic organisms are pinned against intake screens or killed by sudden changes in pressure and temperature.

Not only has the Trump Organization failed to complete the necessary studies, it is significantly underestimating the rate at which river water is sucked into the hotel and condo high-rise, making it appear the practice is less harmful than it actually is, the new lawsuit alleges.

“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 in a statement.

The state’s lawsuit comes a day after lawyers for the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River filed their own complaint in Cook County Circuit Court. Both groups had threatened action under a provision of the federal Clean Water Act that allows citizens to sue polluters if government regulators fail to respond within 60 days.

Building records obtained by lawyers for the nonprofit groups show the Trump Organization has for years underestimated its Chicago River withdrawals by about 44%. The new lawsuits correct the Trump Organization’s math when its employees converted gallons per minute siphoned from the river to millions of gallons of water withdrawn each day.

“We’ve turned over every rock,” said one of the public interest lawyers, Rob Weinstock, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. “Underneath each one, we’ve found more examples of an organization that is unwilling to even try to comply with the law.”

Trump Tower representatives did not respond to a request for comment. They previously called the lawsuits a politically motivated vendetta against Trump.

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The Chicago Tribune first reported in 2018 that the Trump International Hotel & Tower is the only Chicago high-rise that has failed to document the measures it took to protect fish and aquatic life in the river.

Trump’s Chicago managers were first required to conduct a study of fish killed by the luxury hotel and condominium complex as a condition of a 2013 water pollution permit granted by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The permit expired in 2017 and has not been renewed.

All other users of river water have filed documents with the state outlining how their cooling systems limit fish kills. Most draw substantially less water than Trump Tower and slow the velocity of their intakes to increase the chances fish can swim away safely, records reviewed by the Tribune show.

One of the most extensive collections of documents is for 300 N. LaSalle, a 60-story office building that uses about 2 million gallons of river water a day, compared with the nearly 20 million gallons withdrawn daily by the 98-story Trump Tower built during the same period.

Between 2014 and 2018, federal and state biologists found nearly 30 types of fish swimming in the river, including largemouth bass, bluegill, white perch and walleye — remarkable given the city’s long history of treating its namesake waterway as little more than an industrialized canal for its waste.

“We have worked for decades to transform the health of the river, and want to protect those investments,” said Margaret Frisbee, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River. “We must support aquatic species, not destroy them.”


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