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Quad Cities Waterkeeper, Inc. v. Ballegeer

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20161
Nos. 4:12-cv-4075, (C.D. Ill., 09/29/2016) (Darrow, J.)

A district court held that an Illinois excavation company was liable under the CWA for discharging pollutants into a river without a permit. The company discharged concrete, dirt, and other pollutants on the banks and bed of the Green River during its construction and maintenance of a levee. The company never received authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build or maintain the levee. Nor did it hold any kind of permit under the CWA. Environmental groups filed suit against the company under the CWA's citizen suit provision. The company claimed that although the concrete and other materials they had discharged were pollutants within the meaning of the CWA, it was permitted to discharge these materials under the CWA’s statutory maintenance exception. But the court disagreed, holding that the exception does not cover maintenance of a levee that is itself illegal under the CWA. The company asserted that their structure is a levee, its maintenance is explicitly permitted, and the analysis should end there. But courts will not read a statute in such a way as to “produce an absurd and unjust result which Congress could not have intended.” The court's reading of the statute is strengthened by the other exceptions to the CWA §404 permitting regime, which show a consistent purpose of exempting only minor discharges of dredged or fill material in support of activities that are themselves minimally impactful and not violative of the CWA. And the Corps' regulations clearly indicate that it interprets the CWA to allow maintenance only of permitted structures. The court therefore granted summary judgment in favor of the environmental groups.