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 Federal jurisdiction.
  • 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 "zero."
      • 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 water.
      • "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.