The US Supreme Court is wading into the mess of San Francisco’s wastewater and sewage treatment controversy, and will take the case in which SF sued the EPA over how much sewage they can allow into the Pacific Ocean.

There were a few times during the rainy months of this past winter when trash would appear on some SF beaches near the ocean. Some have alleged that trash was overflow from the city’s water treatment “outfall” points, and that it also contained some degree of sewage.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state Attorney General, and SF Bay Regional Water Quality Control sure think that SF is allowing sewage to flow into the ocean, and sued the city over this in early May. “Since 2016, San Francisco has discharged more than 1.8 billion gallons of untreated sewage from its combined sewer systems into creeks, San Francisco Bay, and the Pacific Ocean,” the EPA said when announcing that lawsuit.

But the City of San Francisco had already sued the EPA right back, over the exact same issue. San Francisco did not fare well in that lawsuit, with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the EPA last year and saying the agency could penalize San Francisco for being out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. But San Francisco appealed yet again, and the Chronicle now reports the US Supreme Court agreed to take up the case on Tuesday.  

The case is known as San Francisco v. EPA.

The city argues that they're trying to comply with the Clean Water Act, but the EPA sets standards that are too vague to follow. "The EPA is trying to tell [water treatment facility] permit holders they may not cause 'too much' pollution, without first telling us what 'too much' is," a city spokesperson told Reuters in a Tuesday statement. "We are asking for clear requirements to protect water quality so we can follow them."

That may be, but it is admittedly odd that very liberal San Francisco is suing the EPA and asking for less strict standards when it comes to protecting the environment. And it is not a very San Francisco look when amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs are being filed on behalf of San Francisco by trade groups with names like American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.  

That’s because this is expected to be an impactful, precedent-setting decision that affects many cities and industries that, you know, allow things to flow into the ocean.

So if the City of San Francisco is suing, and the case was just taken up by the Supreme Court, does that mean SF City Attorney David Chiu will be arguing a case before the Supreme Court? Not likely. While Chiu’s name does appear front and center on the case’s petition to the Supreme Court, we also see on that document that the city has retained two big-deal law firms in New York City and Washington, DC. So it would probably be those attorneys appearing in front of the court,

The case is expected to be heard in October, with the Supreme Court likely issuing their ruling next June.

Related: Feds and State Both Sue SF, Claiming the City Lets Sewage Spill Into the Ocean and the Bay [SFist]

Image: Elaine Y. via Yelp