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24 October 2019

US craft brewers warn Supreme Court: back the Clean Water Act

USA | The Supreme Court will hear arguments in November in a major environment case concerning the Clean Water Act. Sixty craft breweries have clubbed together over the summer and told the justices in a brief that weakening the federal regulation would damage their businesses.

The case to be argued has wound its way through the courts since 2012. It concerns the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility on Hawaii’s island of Maui. The facility’s processed sewage is injected into wells that pump it underground. From there, it eventually travels into the Pacific Ocean.

The Clean Water Act, a landmark federal law which was signed in 1972, has significantly cleaned up the nation’s waterways. But as a federal law, it only requires companies to get federal permits if they discharge pollutants into navigable waters, like rivers and oceans. It does not cover groundwater.

The practice of pumping wastewater underground is regulated (or permitted) by the individual US states. For its part, Maui has argued that because its wastewater enters the ocean only indirectly, no federal permit is required. Therefore, it thinks that requiring a federal permit would vastly extend the reach of US regulators.

Several federal courts have been divided over whether this type of indirect pollution requires a federal permit.

The case is now with the Supreme Court. Because of the court’s conservative majority, environmentalists fear they could lose. A decision is expected by the end of June next year.

Craft brewers from across the country are worried that a win for Maui would roll back the Clean Water Act and harm their water supply. Moreover, they could face prohibitive costs if they were required to add new filtration and testing systems as a result of polluted water. Among the signatories of the brief are several large craft brewers, including Brooklyn Brewery, Founders, New Belgium, and Sierra Nevada.