Statutory Interpretation Clean Water Act Navigable Waters.

Byline: Derek Hawkins

United States Supreme Court

Case Name: County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, et al.,

Case No.: 18-260

Focus: Statutory Interpretation Clean Water Act Navigable Waters

The Clean Water Act forbids "any addition" of any pollutant from "any point source" to "navigable waters" without an appropriate permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 301(a), 502(12), 86 Stat. 844, 886. The Act defines "pollutant" broadly, 502(6); defines a "point source" as " 'any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance . . . from which pollutants are or may be discharged,' " including, e.g., any " 'container,' " " 'pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit,' " or " 'well,' " 502(14); and defines the term "discharge of a pollutant" as " 'any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters [including navigable streams, rivers, the ocean, or coastal waters] from any point source,' " 502(12). It then uses those terms in making "unlawful" " 'the discharge of any pollutant by any person' " without an appropriate permit. 301.

Petitioner County of Maui's wastewater reclamation facility collects sewage from the surrounding area, partially treats it, and each day pumps around 4 million gallons of treated water into the ground through four wells. This effluent then travels about a half mile, through groundwater, to the Pacific Ocean. Respondent environmental groups brought a citizens' Clean Water Act suit, alleging that Maui was "discharg[ing]" a "pollutant" to "navigable waters" without the required permit. The District Court found that the discharge from Maui's wells into the nearby groundwater was "functionally one into navigable water," 24 F. Supp. 3d 980, 998, and granted summary judgment to the environmental groups. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, stating that a permit is required when "pollutants are fairly traceable from the point source to a navigable...

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