Lake Erie May Obtain Rights of Nature Protection

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According to a report in the Plain Dealer on January 30, voters in Toledo will be voting on February 26 for a Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

The concept underlying the ballot proposal is that not only natural persons have rights but also nature itself has rights.   The concept has already been adopted into law in places like Australia for the Great Barrier Reef.  If passed by Toledo voters, this would be the first Rights of Nature Law in the United States.

The proposed Bill of Rights “establishes irrevocable rights for the Lake Erie Ecosystem to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.”  This would elevate the rights of the community and its natural environment over powers claimed by certain corporations, such as industrial-scale agribusinesses that cause huge amounts of phosphorus to pollute Lake Erie.

The impetus for this ballot issue are the harms that the western basin of Lake Erie has suffered from phosphorus pollution that fostered the growth of a massive algal bloom a few years ago, causing Toledoans the temporary loss of their water supply from the Lake until the algal bloom cleared off.

If adopted by voters, advocates hope to use the Lake Erie Bill of Rights as a legal tool to help enforce protection of the Lake and its ecosystem.  Obviously, this would also protect the health and safety of those who depend on safe water from Lake Erie.

Several communities in Ohio have adopted similar legislation to protect themselves from Big Oil and Gas corporations that have threatened natural ecosystems on land, notably in connection with shale development.  The success of this strategy is yet to be determined.  It will be interesting to see how this strategy will work out in litigation.