U.S. Supreme Court embraces compromise in Hawaii water pollution suit

FILE PHOTO: The Supreme Court building exterior seen in Washington, U.S., January 21, 2020.REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected arguments by President Donald Trump’s administration in a Hawaii case brought by environmentalists by saying that polluters are sometimes required to obtain permits under a landmark water pollution law for certain discharges that do not go directly into a waterway.

The case involved whether environmentalists can sue Maui County for allowing discharges from a waste facility to reach the Pacific Ocean without a permit under the federal Clean Water Act.

The justices in a 6-3 decision threw out a 2018 ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had allowed the lawsuit by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund and other environmental groups to proceed, saying it was too broad. They sent the case back to the 9th Circuit to apply a new test to decide whether the lawsuit can proceed.

The Supreme Court adopted a middle ground, saying that permits can be required under the Clean Water Act when the discharge into groundwater is the “functional equivalent” of the discharge from a pipe or other “point source.”

The 9th Circuit could still allow the environmental groups to prevail.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham

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