The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration on Thursday, saying industry cannot avoid the Clean Water Act when it pumps wastewater into the ground instead of directly into oceans and rivers.
In a 6-3 decision, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. He said putting the polluted water into the ground before it eventually reaches oceans and rivers is “the functional equivalent” of directly releasing it into the ocean, and permission from the Environmental Protection Agency is needed.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that according to current laws, a permit is needed only for directly dumping polluted water into a waterway.
Attorney David Henkin argued the case on behalf of the environmental group Earthjustice.
“This decision is a huge victory for clean water. The Supreme Court has rejected the Trump administration’s effort to blow a big hole in the Clean Water Act’s protections for rivers, lakes and oceans,” he said.
Thursday's decision stems from a case in Hawaii involving the question of whether a sewage treatment plant needs permission from the EPA to pump treated wastewater into the ground instead of straight into the Pacific Ocean.
Environmentalists said even through this indirect route, the dirty water damaged a fragile coral reef.
President Donald Trump has promised to cut government regulations and rules he says stifle business and kill jobs. But environmentalists say cutting back on such enforcement and oversight is harmful not only to the air and water but also to human health.