Louis J. Terminello, Esq.
Clean water and beer apparently go together, well, like clean water and beer. The media is reporting an interesting case that is soon to be heard by the Supreme Court that on its face seems to have little to do with beer. A closer look, however, reveals otherwise.
The case focuses on the Clean Water Act of 1972 that is designed to protect navigable waterways (including lakes and streams) from harmful pollutants. The Act requires that if pollutants of any sort are pumped into navigable waters a federal permit is required to ensure certain standards are complied with.
Enter Maui’s (yes-Hawaii) Lahaina Wastewater facility which treats millions of gallons of sewage and then injects that water into wells under the ground. After entering the ground, the wastewater is pumped into the ocean. Apparently this is not an uncommon practice. Pumping wastewater into the ground does not require a federal permit. It is a local concern with local laws expanding or limiting safety measures. This type of maneuvering obviates the need for federal permit and oversight but ultimately leads to the permissible dumping of contaminants into navigable waters.
The case before the Supreme Court will determine if this type of activity is permissible doing away with the need for federal permits and their commensurate safety requirements.
Craft brewers around the country are jumping on the bandwagon in opposition to Maui (and the current administration that is attempting to lessen federal oversight) and certain brewers have filed an amicus brief opposing Maui’s position.
Craft brewers claim that clean, fresh water is the lifeblood of their industry. After all, beer is virtually all water (with the addition hops, barley and yeast). Any contaminants in water that alter the taste profile of the beer will most certainly harm their business. Beer lovers, they argue, will recognize the altered taste. Further, the brewers suggest that filtration systems may be needed if certain pollutants are permitted to enter the waterways from which they obtain their brewing water. These systems will likely alter the beer taste profiles too and will most certainly be costly to employ.
Craft beer is big business and growing in the U.S. There are nearly 7,500 breweries around the country employing over 150,000 people. They contribute significantly to federal coffers in the form of excise taxes paid. It will be interesting to see how much, if any, impact they will have on the outcome of this case. At a minimum, a win for Maui seems to suggest a loss for craft beer consumers pretty much everywhere.
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