Vermont Journal of Environmental Law

Volume 21 (2019-2020)

Sierra Club v. Virginia Electric & Power Co.: How a Clean Water Act Misinterpretation May Open the Floodgates to Future Groundwater Polluters

On September 12, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a judgment that added another untenable wrinkle in the fabric of groundwater pollution regulation. Since Congress enacted the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), federal circuit courts have contemplated the issue of whether groundwater pollution falls under the “navigable water” provision of the Clean Water Act’s (CWA)—albeit without tenable guidance. At first blush, groundwater appears distinct from the federally regulated category of navigable waters. Advances in the fields of hydrology and technology, however, have shed significant light on the relationship between groundwater systems and navigable waters. While the traditional definition of navigable waters is itself strained, the Fourth Circuit in Sierra Club v. Virginia Electric & Power Co.significantly hindered the rational application of the scope, meaning, and import of the CWA.

Sierra Club v. Virginia Electric & Power Co.: How a Clean Water Act Misinterpretation May Open the Floodgates to Future Groundwater PollutersSierra Club v. Virginia Electric & Power Co.: How a Clean Water Act Misinterpretation May Open the Floodgates to Future Groundwater Polluters