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County of Maui v. Hawai'i Wildlife Fund
United States Supreme Court
140 S. Ct. 1462 (2020)
The Clean Water Act (CWA) prohibits the discharge of pollutants from a point source into navigable waters without a permit issued by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In passing the CWA, Congress declined the EPA’s request that the CWA also authorize the EPA to regulate ground water because pollution may be discharged into navigable waters through ground water. Instead, Congress included within the CWA certain pollution control requirements to protect ground waters that states must follow. In 2012, the Hawai'i Wildlife Fund and several other environmental protection groups (environmental groups) filed an action in federal district court against the County of Maui (the county) (defendant) for violating the CWA. The environmental groups claimed that the county’s wastewater facility was discharging pollutants into ground water which was then carried to the Pacific Ocean. The district court granted summary judgment in the environmental groups’ favor on the ground that, because the path of pollutants from the facility to the Pacific Ocean through the ground water was ascertainable, it was the equivalent of the facility directly adding pollutants to a navigable water. The matter was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The circuit court affirmed the summary judgment on the ground that the pollutants were fairly traceable from the facility to the Pacific Ocean and, therefore, required a permit under the CWA. The matter was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Breyer, J.)
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