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Supreme Court Upholds the Clean Water Act

04 • 23 • 2020

Supreme Court Upholds the Clean Water Act

Defend the Federal Clean Water Act

Surfrider Foundation and co-plaintiffs in the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui case won a major victory with the decision to protect water quality and the intent of the Clean Water Act by the United States Supreme Court.  In a 6-3 ruling, the majority of the Supreme Court refused to allow a large loophole in the Act and found that liability for pollution exists “when there is direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.” 

This litigation was filed to stop polluting discharges from the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Maui that discharges 3-5 million of gallons of treated sewage each day into the Pacific Ocean via the groundwater beneath the facility, devastating a formerly pristine reef and recreational resources, including at Kahekili Beach.  In April of 2012, Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club-Maui Group, West Maui Preservation Association and Hawai'i Wildlife Fund, as represented by Earthjustice, filed suit in federal district court to address water quality violations of the County and the resulting intense threat to beachgoer health and safety posed by contaminated nearshore waters.

Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the opinion of the court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Brett Kavanaugh joined Breyer in the majority, with Justice Kavanaugh concurring. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented. The victory is not just a win for the Lahaina Injection Wells case, but defends the intent of the Clean Water Act across the nation.