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Cty. of Maui v. Haw. Wildlife Fund

Supreme Court of the United States

November 6, 2019, Argued; April 23, 2020, Decided

No. 18-260.


Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.

] The Clean Water Act forbids the “addition” of any pollutant from a “point source” to “navigable waters” [***8]  without the appropriate permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Federal Water Pollution Control Act, §§301(a), 502(12)(A), as amended by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (Clean Water Act) §2, 86 Stat. 844, 886, 33 U. S. C. §§1311(a), 1362(12)(A). The question presented here is whether the Act “requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source,” here, “groundwater.” Pet. for Cert. i. Suppose, for example, that a sewage treatment plant discharges polluted water into the ground where it mixes with groundwater, which, in turn, flows into a navigable river, or perhaps the ocean. Must the plant’s owner seek an EPA permit before emitting the pollutant? We conclude that the statutory provisions at issue require a permit if the addition of the pollutants through groundwater is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters.

] Congress’ purpose as reflected in the language of the Clean Water Act is to “‘restore and maintain the . . . integrity of the Nation’s waters,’” §101(a), 86 Stat. 816.  [**646]  Prior to the Act, Federal and State Governments regulated water pollution in large part by setting water quality standards. See EPA v. California ex rel. State Water Resources Control Bd., 426 U. S. 200, 202-203, 96 S. Ct. 2022, 48 L. Ed. 2d 578 (1976). The Act restructures federal regulation by insisting that a [***9]  person wishing to discharge any pollution into navigable waters first obtain EPA’s permission to do so. See id., at 203-205, 96 S. Ct. 2022, 48 L. Ed. 2d 578; Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U. S. 304, 310-311, 101 S. Ct. 1784, 68 L. Ed. 2d 114 (1981).

 [*1469]  ] The Act’s provisions use specific definitional language to achieve this result. First, the Act defines “pollutant” broadly, including in its definition, for example, any solid waste, incinerator residue, “‘heat,’” “‘discarded equipment,’” or sand (among many other things). §502(6), 86 Stat. 886. Second, the Act defines a “point source” as “‘any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance . . . from which pollutants are or may be discharged,’” including, for example, any “‘container,’” “‘pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit,’” or “‘well.’” §502(14), id., at 887. Third, it 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), id., at 886.

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140 S. Ct. 1462 *; 206 L. Ed. 2d 640 **; 2020 U.S. LEXIS 2410 ***; 50 ELR 20102; 28 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 164


Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.


Hawai'i Wildlife Fund v. Cty. of Maui, 886 F.3d 737, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 8131 (9th Cir. Haw., Mar. 30, 2018)

Disposition: 886 F. 3d 737, vacated and remanded.


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Environmental Law, Clean Water Act, Coverage & Definitions, Discharges, Point Sources, Navigable Waters, Enforcement, Discharge Permits, General Permits, Pollutants, Business & Corporate Compliance, Environmental Law, Water Quality, Clean Water Act, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Courts, Judicial Precedent, Discharge Permits