Apr 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rules against EPA on wastewater

Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

The United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Thursday that sewage plants and other industries must abide by environmental requirements under the Clean Water Act when sending dirty water on an indirect route to rivers and oceans, AP reports.

Why it matters: The ruling rejects the Environmental Protection Agency's opinion that industries do not have to comply with the regulations if they discharge polluted water into the ground.

  • The EPA under President Trump reversed its position on ground discharge, which it had held for 30-years.

What they're saying: “We hold that the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court.

The other side: Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas dissented.

  • “Based on the statutory text and structure, I would hold that a permit is required only when a point source discharges pollutants directly into navigable waters,” Thomas wrote.

The big picture: The decision came from Hawaii case about whether a sewage treatment plant needs a federal permit to send wastewater underground.

  • Environmental studies have found that the wastewater eventually reaches the ocean and has damaged a coral reef near a Maui beach, according to AP.

Thought bubble, via Axios' Ben Geman: It’s the latest twist in roughly two decades or more of legal and regulatory battles over the reach of the Clean Water Act — a bedrock environmental law subsequent administrations have interpreted very differently in terms of the breadth of protection it provides.

Go deeper: Trump administration to weaken mercury emission regulations

Go deeper

As techlash heats up again, here's who's stoking the fire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As controversies around online speech rage against a backdrop of racial tension, presidential provocation and a pandemic, a handful of companies, lawmakers and advocacy groups have continued to promote a backlash against Big Tech.

The big picture: Companies like Facebook and Google got a reputational boost at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, but that respite from criticism proved brief. They're now once again walking a minefield of regulatory investigations, public criticism and legislative threats over antitrust concerns, content moderation and privacy concerns.

Cities are retooling public transit to lure riders back

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After being told for months to stay away from others, the idea of being shoulder to shoulder again in a bus or subway terrifies many people, requiring sweeping changes to public transit systems for the COVID-19 era.

Why it matters: Cities can't come close to resuming normal economic activity until large numbers of people feel comfortable using public transportation.

The policies that could help fix policing

 Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

George Floyd's death has reignited the long and frustrating push to reform a law enforcement system whose systemic flaws have been visible for years.

Why it matters: Solving these problems will require deep political, structural and cultural changes, experts and advocates say — but they also point to a handful of specific policy changes that, while not a cure, would make a difference.