Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 531 U.S. 159 (2001)
Cook County had an abandoned open pit mine. The mine had
flooded with water and had become a de facto lake.
Cook Country decided to fill the pit up with trash. The
US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) sued for an injunction.
USACE argued that the Clean Water Act §301
prohibits discharges to "navigable waters" without a permit
(issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers, pursuant to §404).
Cook County argued that they did not need a permit
because the de facto lake was not connected to any other body of water.
USACE argued that even though the lake was unconnected
(and wasn't even a natural lake), it was now home to 100 species of
migratory waterfowl, and since the birds fly across State lines while
migrating, they are interstate commerce and therefore covered under
The Trial Court found for USACE, Cook County appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed. Cook County appealed.
The Appellate Court found that even though it was
isolated, because it served as a habitat for migratory birds, substantial
effects of interstate commerce could be inferred from the millions of
hunters and bird watchers who travel interstate in pursuit of birds.
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court looked to their previous decision United
States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc. (474 U.S. 121 (1985)) which
said that the word "navigable" was of "limited
effect" and found here that "limited" didn't mean
Basically, Congress' use of the word
"navigable" must be construed to mean that they did not intend
for the Clean Water Act to cover completely isolated bodies of
"Where an administrative interpretation of a
Statute invokes the outer limits of Congress' power, we expect a clear
indication that Congress indented that result."
The Court further found that permitting the USACE to claim
Federal jurisdiction over ponds and mudflats would result in a
significant impingement of the States' traditional and primary power over
land and water use.