Washington, April 23: The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected arguments by President Donald Trump’s administration seeking to limit the reach of a landmark water pollution law in a Hawaii dispute over wastewater indirectly discharged into the Pacific Ocean – a ruling hailed by environmentalists, Reuters reported.
The case involves whether Hawaii’s Maui County can be sued by environmentalists for allowing discharges from a sewage facility to reach the Pacific without a federal permit under the Clean Water Act. The wastewater was not directly discharged into the Pacific but rather into groundwater that ended up in the ocean.
The justices in a 6-3 decision threw out a 2018 ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had allowed the lawsuit by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund and other environmental groups to proceed, saying it was too broad. They sent the case back to the 9th Circuit to apply a new test to decide whether the lawsuit can move forward, leaving the door open for the litigation to proceed.
“It’s a huge victory for environmentalists,” said David Henkin, a lawyer with environmental group Earthjustice who argued the case for the challengers.
Henkin voiced confidence that Maui County ultimately will be required to obtain a permit.
The Supreme Court adopted a middle ground, saying permits can be required under the Clean Water Act when the discharge into groundwater is the “functional equivalent” of the discharge from a pipe or other “point source.”
The ruling, authored by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, was joined by the court’s three other liberals and two conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, appointed to the court by Trump in 2018.
The new interpretation would allow environmentalists to file lawsuits in certain circumstances when water is discharged into groundwater, an outcome Trump’s administration opposed. The administration, which has rolled back numerous environmental regulations, sided with the county in the case.