On November 6, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, easily the most significant environmental case on the Supreme Court’s docket this term (at least so far). At issue is whether the Clean Water Act’s permitting requirements apply to activities that discharge pollutants into groundwater that eventually reaches navigable waters.
If the Supreme Court were to conclude that water pollution conveyed through groundwater is subject to the CWA, this would greatly expand the range of activities subject to CWA regulation. In Hawaii alone this would likely impose the CWA’s permitting requirements on over 6,000 underground injection wells and over 20,000 septic systems.
Fearful that the Supreme Court will reject a broad interpretation of the CWA’s scope, environmentalist groups have been seeking to settle the Maui case before the Court rules. Last month, the Maui County Council voted to settle the case, but Maui’s mayor refuses to go along, arguing that it is not in the best interests of the people of Maui to settle and that the county council cannot settle the case unilaterally.
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