Breweries Hop onto Maui Water Pollution Case

Oct. 18, 2019

An upcoming Supreme Court case over water pollution in Maui could have substantial consequences for breweries.

Breweries are concerned an upcoming Supreme Court case over water pollution in Maui could overhaul the Clean Water Act and harm their water supply.

Maui’s Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility treats millions of gallons of sewage each day and then injects the treated waste into wells that pump it deep underground. Maui has argued that because its wastewater enters the ocean only indirectly, no federal permit is required by law. Along with attorneys for the Trump administration and business groups, Maui has said that requiring a federal permit to inject discharge into groundwater would vastly extend the reach of U.S. regulators, reported CNBC

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the pollutants were fairly traceable from the plant to the ocean and that the discharge was the equivalent of releasing the waste straight into the water.

Ruling in favor of Maui could make it easier for big businesses to potentially pollute the nation’s rivers and streams as discharge regulation standards likely would not apply. 

The quality and consistency of water is the key to the $76.2 billion beer industry. Too many sulfates makes beer taste acidic, according to CNBC. If there is chlorine in the water then the beer will taste like aspirin. Bacteria spoils entire batches, while smaller changes in the water can change the beer’s foam pattern and shelf life.

“It’s all about the water,” said Louis Jeroslow, head brewer at North Carolina brewery Angry Troll Brewing, which signed onto the Supreme Court brief. “What simplifies things for an industrial producer to put sludge in the ground and our waterways and not get a permit affects everyone else who deals with the water. It’s really just kicking the can down the road.”

The case would require breweries to add new filtration and testing systems as a result of water sources that could contain untreated or partially treated wastewater.

There are about 7,300 craft breweries in the U.S., and the industry employs more than 150,000 people, according to the Brewers Association.

“You can imagine that, if all a polluter needs to do to get out of the Clean Water Act is to pull its pipe 5 ft back from a river or lake, then it can dump as many pollutants as it wants without any permit or oversight, that would be absolutely devastating to our nation’s waters,” said David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice.

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Cristina Tuser

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