Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Politics & Govt
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Published on May 29, 2024
Supreme Court to Decide San Francisco's Fate in Epic Battle with EPA Over Water WoesPhoto by Mr. Kjetil Ree., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Supreme Court threw its hat into the ring Tuesday, agreeing to dive into a contentious brawl between San Francisco and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over water pollution standards. San Francisco is seeking to overturn a verdict that previously backed the EPA's push for stricter pollution control, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. According to the city, the EPA is dropping the ball by not clearly defining "too much" concerning pollution, leaving local governments to guess what is expected.

Caught in the undercurrents of legal back and forth, the city contends that the current environmental laws should dictate specific levels of allowable discharges—numbers they can aim not to exceed. However, federal and state agencies do not have any of it, claiming San Francisco's efforts are inadequate for keeping local waters safe from harmful bacteria and other pollutants. This legal skirmish was initially spurred into motion by a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last July, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

It's not just a local issue; the implications of this battle are making waves nationwide. The Supreme Court's decision will lay down the law for the nation, setting a standard for pollution control that will ripple far beyond San Francisco's borders. The case, San Francisco v. EPA, has sparked local and national attention, with anticipation building for a verdict by June 2025. Despite its protestations, the city has been accused of allowing a staggering 1.8 billion gallons of sewage, some untreated, to flow into the ocean since 2016, a detail revealed by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The EPA and the California Regional Water Quality Board, seeking to address the pollution problems, sued the city this past May 1. They demand San Francisco overhaul its wastewater tactics and pay hundreds of millions in penalties for its infractions. In particular, over a recent six-month rainy season, more than 4 billion gallons of sewage were discharged—a shocking figure reported by Bloomberg Law.

San Francisco, however, claims it has poured billions into infrastructure to comply with the Clean Water Act. City Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jen Kwart told Bloomberg Law, "We simply want to know the requirements that apply to us, and we want EPA to follow the rules that it set up to determine those requirements."