Maui County wastewater gets Supreme Court treatment Wednesday

By  | 

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Maui County, Hawaii and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund will argue in front of the Supreme Court Wednesday. The high-profile environmental case about Maui wastewater and its impact on the coastline could not be settled in-state, so it now goes to the highest court in the land.
In question is whether West Maui wastewater treatment should be federally supervised.

County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund will be argued in the Supreme Court Wednesday. (Source: Gray DC)

It boils down to the County of Maui injecting wastewater into wells that eventually seeps into the ocean. Hawaii Wildlife Fund argue the contaminated water is damaging the reefs and polluting the ocean. They won their case in the federal appeals court. The County appealed and took it to the High Court.

“(Maui County’s) motivation is really clear: they want to reduce the compliance burdens that they have as polluters into the environment,” said Drew Caputo, who is on the Earthjustice team representing Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

He thinks this case is clear, saying the tainted sewage water that ends up in the ocean should be federally regulated. The county says that’s not necessary because the wastewater they are treating is not going directly into the ocean, simply into wells that make their way to the Pacific via groundwater. Caputo thinks this is a loophole in the 1972 Clean Water Act that needs to be closed by the Supreme Court.

“Even if you know that that pollutant is going to go to the river, ocean or the lake through the groundwater, you can do that without any pollution control obligations at all,” said Caputo.

Jesse Richardson, from the national Water Systems Council, filed a brief in support of the County of Maui. Richardson believes the County of Maui should change its polluting habits, but that it should be a state mandate, not federal.

“In a lot of states this would be covered by state regulation and it should be covered in Hawaii,” said Richardson.

Richardson says if the Supreme Court finds in favor of Hawaii Wildlife, the consequences would be widespread. He thinks it could force every American to go through an expensive permitting process whenever they touch groundwater anywhere near the ocean.

“That would add a lot of time and expense to that and that would ultimately be passed onto the homeowner,” said Richardson.

Maui Mayor Mike Victorino is expected to attend arguments that begin at 10 am ET on Wednesday. Victorino argues that conforming to federal permits will lead to huge increases in Maui water rates.

Copyright 2019 Gray DC. All rights reserved.