Argument Analysis: Context Trumps Text as Justices Debate Reach of Clean Water Act

by Lisa Heinzerling | November 11, 2019

This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Heinzerling's argument preview for this case.

The Clean Water Act requires a permit for the addition to the navigable waters of any pollutant that comes “from any point source.” Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court examined this clause during oral argument in County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The question in this case is whether a permit is required for pollutants that originate from a point source but travel through groundwater before reaching a navigable water.

The textual crux of the case is the word “from”: Does “from” mean that a pollutant must be directly delivered to a navigable water by a point source or that a pollutant must merely originate at a point source?

If “from” means the former, the County of Maui wins, because the millions of gallons of treated sewage it discharges into its underground wells run through groundwater before reaching the Pacific Ocean. If it means the latter, the environmental groups win, because the treated sewage originates from the county’s wells, and all agree that these wells are point sources under the statute.

At oral argument yesterday, the justices appeared to find little purchase in the bare word “from.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh was most explicit on this point. He suggested that both ...

Argument Preview: Justices to Consider Reach of Clean Water Act's Permitting Requirement

by Lisa Heinzerling | November 04, 2019
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The central regulatory construct of the Clean Water Act is the requirement of a permit for the addition to the nation's waters of any pollutant that comes "from any point source." Congress' high hopes for the cleansing power of the act's permitting system are reflected in the name Congress chose for it – the "national pollutant discharge elimination system" – ...

2020 in the Courts: A Preview

by Daniel Farber | October 22, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. There are going to be some significant environmental cases over the next year. In addition, some important new cases will be filed now or in the near future, which may produce some interesting rulings. It will probably take more than a year, however, for some of the big new cases down the turnpike to result in their first level of judicial opinions, let alone reach completion. The Supreme Court The Court agreed last spring to ...

Justice Stevens and the Rule of (Environmental) Law

by Daniel Farber | July 18, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet There's already been a lot written in the aftermath of Justice Stevens's death, including Ann Carlson's excellent Legal Planet post earlier this week. I'd like to add something about an aspect of his jurisprudence that had great relevance to environmental law: his belief in the rule of law, and specifically, in the duty of both the judiciary and the executive branch to respect and implement congressional mandates. This stance was evident in Justice Stevens's decision ...

Kisor v. Wilkie: A Reprieve for Embattled Administrative State?

by Robert Glicksman | July 10, 2019
Originally published by The George Washington Law Review. Reprinted with permission. Imagine a world in which administrative agencies whose actions are challenged in court are afforded little respect and even less deference from reviewing courts. Imagine further that congressional efforts to vest authority in these agencies to act as guardians of public health and safety, environmental integrity, consumer interests, and economic security are viewed as alarming threats to liberty and to the very foundations of the separation of governmental authority ...

The Witching Auer

by Daniel Farber | July 08, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. The Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Kisor v. Wilkie was eagerly awaited by administrative law experts. It is one skirmish in the ongoing war over deference to agencies. In this case, the issue was whether to overrule the Auer doctrine, which requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of its own regulations. This doctrine, like its big brother, the Chevron doctrine, has become a target for conservative scholars and judges. The Auer doctrine has ...

The Census Case and the Delegation Issue

by Daniel Farber | July 01, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. In a recent decision, four of the conservative Supreme Court Justices indicated a desire to limit the amount of discretion that Congress can give administrative agencies. If taken literally, some of the language they used would hobble the government by restricting agencies like EPA to "filling in the details" or making purely factual determinations. Some observers have feared that the conservatives were on the verge of dismantling modern administrative law. As I indicated in a ...

Justice Gorsuch versus the Administrative State

by Daniel Farber | June 27, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Gundy v. United States was a case involving a fairly obscure statute regulating sex offenders, but some have seen it as a harbinger of the destruction of the modern administrative state. In a 4-1-3 split, the Court turned away a constitutional challenge based on a claim that Congress had delegated too much authority to the executive branch. But there were ominous signs that at least four Justices are willing to change the ground rules in ...

Opinion Analysis: Virginia's Moratorium on Uranium Mining Is Not Pre-empted, but the Role of Legislative Purpose Remains Open for Debate

by Emily Hammond | June 18, 2019
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The Supreme Court has concluded that Virginia's decades-old moratorium on uranium mining is not pre-empted by the Atomic Energy Act. But there is no clear answer to the question that pervaded the briefing and oral argument: What is the proper role for state legislative purpose in a pre-emption analysis? Monday's judgment was accompanied by three opinions: a lead opinion written by ...

A Meditation on Juliana v. United States

by Lisa Heinzerling | June 17, 2019
In a recent essay posted to SSRN, I try to see, and to appreciate, the wisdom in a species of climate litigation that has many detractors. This litigation asks the courts to hold the government and private parties judicially accountable for their active promotion and pursuit of climate-endangering activities, even after they knew better – even after they knew the terrible risks we faced if they continued on their preferred course. It calls upon venerable legal doctrines, deployed as modern ...

Opinion Analysis: The Justices Wish Sturgeon 'Good Hunting' in Sturgeon v. Frost

by Sandra Zellmer | March 28, 2019
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The Supreme Court ruled unanimously this week in favor of Alaskan John Sturgeon, who waged a 12-year battle against the National Park Service over its ban on hovercraft in park preserves. As a result of the decision, Sturgeon can once again "rev up his hovercraft in search of moose" on the Nation River in the Yukon Charley Preserve. This is the ...

Does the Future Have Standing?

by Daniel Farber | February 07, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Climate change is not just a long-range problem; it's one that will get much worse in the future unless major emissions cuts are made. For instance, sea levels will continue to rise for centuries. But the people who will be harmed by these changes can't go to court: they haven't been born yet. How can their interests be represented in court? And even people now alive who might still be around in, say, 2100, will ...

What's Wrong with Juliana (and What's Right?)

by Daniel Farber | January 22, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Juliana v. United States, often called the "children's case," is an imaginative effort to make the federal government responsible for its role in promoting the production and use of fossil fuels and its failure to control carbon emissions. The plaintiffs ask the court to "declare [that] the United States' current environmental policy infringes their fundamental rights, direct the agencies to conduct a consumption-based inventory of United States CO2 emissions," and use that inventory to "prepare and ...

Opinion Analysis: Frogs and Humans Live to Fight Another Day

by Lisa Heinzerling | November 30, 2018
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). In a mixed-bag ruling, a unanimous Supreme Court returned Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to decide several questions not answered on the first go-round. Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the court appears calculated to decide just enough to justify shipping the case back to the lower court. ...

Argument Analysis: Yukon-Charley Continues to Commandeer Gray Cells

by Sandra Zellmer | November 06, 2018
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Zellmer's follow-up analysis of the opinion in this case. Alaska hunter John Sturgeon is asking the Supreme Court to slam the door on the National Park Service's ability to apply its nationwide hovercraft ban to the Nation River within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Sturgeon's attorney, Matthew Findley, told the justices during oral argument yesterday that the Alaska National ...

Argument Analysis: Justices Express Skepticism over Using Legislative Motive in Pre-emption Analysis

by Emily Hammond | November 06, 2018
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The Supreme Court heard oral argument yesterday morning in Virginia Uranium Inc. v. Warren, which concerns the largest uranium deposit in the United States, located in south-central Virginia. The petitioners are owners of the deposit who wish to mine uranium, and they are challenging a 1983 statute by which the Virginia General Assembly imposed a moratorium on uranium mining. Although all ...

Argument Preview: Can a Hovercraft Navigate the Shoals of Yukon-Charley?

by Sandra Zellmer | October 31, 2018
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Zellmer's follow-up analysis of the oral arguments in this case and here to read her analysis of the opinion. “Alaska is different.” So said Chief Justice John Roberts when the U.S. Supreme Court last took up this case two years ago in Sturgeon v. Frost (Sturgeon I). When the court hears a second oral argument in Sturgeon ...

Argument Preview: Justices May Consider Role of Legislative Motive in Pre-emption Analysis

by Emily Hammond | October 30, 2018
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Hammond's follow-up analysis of the oral arguments in this case. On November 5, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, which could test the extent to which a court will explore a state legislature’s motives when evaluating whether a state statute is pre-empted by federal law. The facts concern the ...

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