Supreme Court to decide whether Clean Water Act regulates groundwater


Today, the Supreme Court agreed to hear County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, in which PLF filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

This case is about whether the Clean Water Act regulates pollution that reaches surface water by means of groundwater. If it does, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said, then every homeowner with a septic tank could be subject to harsh treatment from agency bureaucrats.

Congress has never asked federal agencies to regulate all pollution everywhere in the country. In the case of groundwater pollution, local governments have been empowered to regulate and enforce discharges from things like septic tanks or lawn fertilizers.

The scope of the Clean Water Act has been a contentious and controversial issue for decades. But for most of that time, the focus has been on surface waters—lakes, streams, ponds, marshes. Which are subject to federal regulation, and which should states regulate?

Without a doubt, the Clean Water Act has done a great deal of good in cleaning our waterways. But abuse by enforcement agencies has also harmed many Americans and led to serious controversy about the law.

Under the Ninth Circuit’s decision, which the Supreme Court has now agreed to review, the Clean Water Act’s controversy would greatly expand. If groundwater pollution can be regulated, then virtually all homeowners and farmers in the nation could be forced to pay massive fines and lose the ability to use their property.

We hope that the Supreme Court reverses the Ninth Circuit and confirms Congress’s decision to leave groundwater regulation to state and local governments to address.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Legal Foundation, America’s most powerful ally for justice, litigates in courts nationwide for limited government, property rights, individual liberty, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations.  PLF represents all clients free of charge.


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Sheryl Hamlin
2 years ago

HUGE implications for wastewater plants that depend on percolation ponds…