So this is an environmental maze of nonsense, which is pretty common for the EPA. The Clean Water Act (CWA) mandates something called National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for people putting pollutants into waterways people use, (called navagable) from what they refer to as a point source. So basically, if you have a pipe (point source) that feeds into a river (navagable water), and the water coming out of that port has contaminants in it, you need a fucking permit. Any non-point sources are governed by the EPA outside the CWA.
The county of Maui, gets rid of treated wastewater by pumping it through wells which then seep into the groundwater, and eventually out into the ocean. There were several reports through the 40+ years they’ve been doing this shit, showing that 90% of this treated wastewater makes it to the ocean, and at no point, did anyone from the EPA argue they needed one of the special NPDES permits mentioned above until recently, when the Hawaii Wildlife Fund apparently realized it’s budget was looking weak.
But then a district court decided the Maui County had violated the CWA anyway, because apparently they needed more money. They argued that even though that shit just seeps into the ground water, it’s still something that would fall under the CWA’s rules in spirit, apparently. Because it sure as fuck isn’t a point source feeding into navagable waters as they define it.
Maui argues that since the pollution starts in a well, seeps into the ground, makes its way into the groundwater, and then eventually to the ocean, there’s not a direct link from where they put it, and the ocean, such as a pipe for instance, that drains directly into the ocean.
The 9th circuit agreed with the district court, but Maui County is still convinced this is some bullshit of the highest order, so they’re not asking SCOTUS for help.
In a split 6-3 decision, SCOTUS decided that the CWA’s rules also should encompass a functional equivalent of a direct discharge, and that Maui’s argument is a bullshit technicality they aren’t buying one little bit.
Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas however, wanted to adopt the dead document mantra, and say that the letter of the law is what we’re bound by, and by the letter, Maui makes a good argument.