Additions and Discharges

AuthorStephen M. Johnson
Chapter 5
Additions and Discharges
I. Regulated Activities
As noted in the previous Chapter, Section 301 of the Clean W ater Act regulates the
“discharge” of pollutants, which the statute defines to mean “addition” of a pollutant to
navigable waters from a point source. 33 U.S.C. § 1362(12). Section 404 of the Act
authorizes the Corps of Engineers to issue permits for the “discharge of dredged or fill
material into the navigable waters at specified disposal sites.” As a result, whether an
activity in wetlands or regulated waters is regulated under the Clean Water Act frequently
depends on whether it involves the addition of pollutants and on whether it involves the
discharge of dredged or fill material.
The terms “addition,” “dredged material,” “fill material,” and “discharge of dredged or fill
material” are not defined in the Clean Water Act, but the Corps and EPA have defined most
of them by regulation. The Corps first adopted regulations defining many of those terms in
1977. See 42 Fed. Reg. 37,121 (July 19, 1977). In those regulations, the agency defined
dredged material and fill material as follows:
Id. While the definition of “dredged material” was simply tied to the nature of the material,
the definition of “fill material” was tied to the purpose for which the material was being
used. The regulations also included a definition of “discharge of dredged material”
(“addition of dredged material into the waters of the United States”) and a definition of
“discharge of fill material” (“addition of fill material into the waters of the United States”), but
Dredged material: material that is excavated or dredged from the waters
of the United States
Fill material: any material used for the primary purpose of replacing an
aquatic area with dry land or of changing the bottom elevation of a waterbody.
The term does not include any pollutant discharged into the water primarily to
dispose of waste, as that activity is regulated under Section 402 * * *
neither was particularly illuminating. Id. The regulations did not define “addition.”
The regulations that EPA adopted in 1980 included a similar definition of “dredged
material,” but they defined “fill material” as: “any ‘pollutant’ which replaces portions of the
‘waters of the United States’ with dry land or which changes the bottom elevation of a water
body for any purpose.” See 45 Fed. Reg. 33290, 33421 (May 19, 1980). Thus, the EPA
definition of “fill materialwas not tied to the purpose for which a material was used, but
rather the effect of the use of the material. For many years, the EPA and Corps regulatory
definitions of “fill material” diverged in that manner.
Since 2002, however, the Corps and EPA have defined the terms “dredged material” and
“fill material” consistently in their regulations. The current regulatory definitions of the terms
33 C.F.R. § 323.2 (Corps’ regulations); 40 C.F.R. § 232.2 (EPA’s regulations). Both
agencies also include a non-exclusive list of materials that constitute “fill material” within
their definition of the term. The list includes “rock, sand, soil, clay, plastics, construction
debris, wood chips, overburden from mining or other excavation activities, and materials
used to create any structure or infrastructure in the waters of the United States.” Id.
The evolution of the definitions of “dredged material,” “fill material,” “discharge of dredged
material,” and “discharge of fill material” are discussed at length in the sections that follow.
However, neither agency has defined “addition” by regulation.
Dredged material: material that is excavated or dredged from waters of
the United States.
Fill material: material placed in waters of the United States where the
material has the effect of: (i) Replacing any portion of a water of the United
States with dry land; or (ii) Changing the bottom elevation of any portion of a
water of the United States. * * *
Ellen Marshall is an attorney who specializes in real estate development and she represents
Stewart Griffith, a shopping mall developer. While meeting with Griffith last week to review a
contract to purchase property in Wilmington, Delaware, she learned that Griffith had instructed
some of the contractors who were building a mall for him on property near Dover, Delaware to
fill in an acre of coastal wetlands without seeking a permit from the Corps of Engineers. Griffith
told Marshall that the contractors had found several Black Rail nests in the wetlands. Since
Black Rails are an endangered bird, Griffith was sure that the Corps of Engineers would never
issue him a permit for the development if he applied for one, so he thought it would be best to
fill in the wetlands and hope no one found out about it. Marshall encouraged Griffith to tell the
Corps about his actions and to apply for an after the fact permit, but he refused and told her
that he would take his chances, because he didn’t think anyone other than the contractors
knew that the wetlands had been filled. Marshall believes that Griffith will be subject to much
more stringent penalties if the Corps discovers the violation independently than if Griffith
reports the violation to the Corps. Marshall is also concerned because there are only a few
Black Rails left in Delaware and Griffith’s action destroyed vital habitat for the birds. If Griffith
reports the violation and creates, restores or enhances wetlands in the vicinity of the mall
development in Dover, the birds have a better chance for survival.
Can Marshall notify the Corps about Griffith’s illegal filling activities if Griffin does not want to
report the violation? See American Bar Association, Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6
(and associated comments). Would your answer be different if the filling significantly increased
the likelihood that a hospice near the mall in Dover would be flooded in the event of a hurricane
or major tropical storm in the region?

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