We’re About To Find Out How The Supreme Court Feels About The Clean Water Act

The United States Supreme Court leans conservative — and is in danger of becoming even more strongly conservative soon thanks to a health scare by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One of the most pressing environmental issues of our times concerns the Clean Water Act. The Supreme Court will hear arguments over one Hawaii county’s apparent accidental disregard for laws regarding wastewater discharge.

The issue stems from Maui’s policy of discharging treated wastewater underground instead of the ocean, like many other municipalities. While this is an atypical solution, it’s actually considered environmentally more sound that doing what most governments do — which is discharge treated wastewater directly into the ocean.

The problem is, environmental protection groups have accused Maui’s government of accidentally disregarding the Clean Water Act’s policy that requires municipalities to apply for a permit to discharge wastewater into the ocean — all because some of Maui’s wastewater ended up there anyway.

This was discovered when the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources determined that coral reefs in the region were dying at a historically fast pace. 

Hawaii Public Radio’s Ryan Finnerty said, “The Environmental Protection Agency eventually commissioned a study to find out if there was a physical link between the injection wells and the ocean. University of Hawai’i geologist Craig Glenn used colored dye to track where wastewater from the injection wells was going. He said the results were conclusive.”

The Trump administration recognizes that the discharge ended up in the ocean by accident, and no one is presenting evidence of a coverup. That’s why the Trump administration is supporting Maui County in the lawsuit that was presented to the Supreme Court earlier this month. But the Trump administration is a lot softer on pollution than basically any other presidential administration in history, and opponents have been quick to point that out.

Finnerty said, “Environmentalists say discharging pollution into groundwater is exploiting a loophole and not what Congress originally intended. But if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Maui County, that loophole could become law.”

He continued, “Hannah Bernard and other environmentalists [have already] … won twice in federal court, but in a similar case from Kentucky, a different appeals court disagreed. The Trump administration is backing Maui County in this case — a reversal from the Obama-era EPA. 

“It’s a part of a broader effort to limit federal water protections in favor of state control. David Henkin, an attorney representing the Maui plaintiffs, says the Trump administration’s stance on groundwater pollution is a departure from longstanding policy.”