articles tagged ‘Supreme Court’

Does the Supreme Court’s New “Functional Equivalent” Test Clear the Way for Trump’s Clean Water Act Rule?

April was a busy month for the Clean Water Act (“CWA”).

On April 21, 2020 the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and U.S. Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) formally published their Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which limits the scope of the CWA by redefining “waters of the United States.”

Just two days later, the Supreme Court issued its decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, holding that the CWA applies not just to discharges directly from point sources to waters of the United States, but also to the “functional equivalent” of direct discharges.

Prior to the Court’s decision, the lower courts had been split as to whether discharges from point sources that reach waters of the United States by indirect means, such as through groundwater, require CWA permits. In Maui, the Court answered with a resounding: “Maybe.”

While the Court’s new test is hardly a model of clarity, it is consistent with Justice Scalia’s plurality opinion in the Court’s 2006 Rapanos case. This is good news for the Trump Administration’s new Navigable Waters Protection Rule, whose more limited definition of “waters of the United States” draws heavily on Justice Scalia’s Rapanos opinion.  

Indeed, in recent days a number of states and environmental groups have already filed lawsuits challenging the rule, arguing that the agencies erred in relying on the Rapanos plurality instead of Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test. While none of the recently filed complaints address Maui, we expect the Court’s decision will feature prominently in those cases going forward. 
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