Supreme Court wades back into the murky Clean Water Act


Since the 1980s, Maui County’s wastewater treatment plant has discharged millions of gallons of recycled water into groundwater. Over several months, this pollution migrates to the ocean where it affects the health of coral reefs. Under the Clean Water Act, any addition of any pollutant from any point source to a navigable water requires a costly and time-consuming permit. Yet the county has never obtained a permit, believing that the conveyance of the pollution by groundwater rather than a pipe rendered the permit requirement inapplicable.

This week, the Supreme Court confronted the question whether a permit is required. But, if the oral argument is any indication, the answer is anything but clear. And that opaqueness raises significant concerns about how pollution can be addressed effectively while also giving fair notice to property owners. Although the Court’s consideration was limited to the statute as it exists today, the debate…

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