Supreme Court hearing on Clean Water Act key to Alaskan projects

(KTUU)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A dispute between a county on Hawaii and environmental groups has reached the US Supreme Court and the decision could have direct impacts on projects in Alaska.

The case centers on the Clean Water Act and whether a permit is required when pollutants are not directly discharged into surface water.

In Maui, Hawaii, a wastewater treatment plant is processing millions of gallons of sewage and injecting the treated wastewater deep underground. An Environmental Protection Agency study traced the water and showed that much of it ended up in the Pacific and was causing damage to coral reefs.

The county argues that the Clean Water Act permit is not needed because it is not discharging wastewater directly into navigable waters.

The Supreme Court's decision will clarify the scope and application of the Clean Water Act.

The ruling could determine the path forward for a large copper, zinc, silver and barite prospect 25 miles Northeast of Haines.

The Palmer Project, operated by Canadian based Constantine Metals, was issued a permit for groundwater discharge, but that permit was remanded after environmental watchdogs requested a review.

"If you have a discharge into groundwater that is in close proximity, direct connection with surface waters, so that your discharge into groundwater is going to contaminate surface waters, then according to the Clean Water Act and according to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, you have to give the discharger a surface water permit," said Gershon Cohen, director of Alaska Clean Water Advocacy.

The Supreme Court decision could influence what type of permit the state requires of the Palmer Project. The ruling is expected next June.

"They're not going to be able to legally get that permit for at least six months depending on what the Supreme Court finds. If the Supreme Court overturns the 9th Circuit, then they could go forward with that permit," Cohen said. "If they don't overturn the 9th Circuit, then they confirm that a surface water discharge is needed and then these guys are back at the drawing board in terms of getting their operation going this Spring."

Channel 2 News reached out to Constantine Metals for comment, but a spokesperson was unavailable.