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OPINION: ‘Lake Erie Bill of Rights’ Heads Into Federal Court

By Simon Davis-Cohen

The first law in the United States to recognize the rights of a specific ecosystem will appear in federal court today, January 28.

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) was adopted nearly one year ago by Toledo, Ohio, residents, as they faced continued threats to their drinking water and no remedy from state government. The historic law was immediately challenged by an organization claiming to be an agribusiness farm.

Today, corporate attorneys from Voyrs, Sater, Seymour and Pease will argue that their corporate client has the power to get the court to veto LEBOR. The State of Ohio will also argue that the municipal law (adopted by 61% of Toledoans who voted) violates the state’s authority as the “sole protector of Ohio waterways.”

Ahead of the court date, Toledoans for Safe Water (TSW) organized supporters of LEBOR and Rights of Nature to sign a public statement of support. Over 900 (and counting) individuals and organizations have signed on, with messages of support coming from across the United States, and around the world, including Canada, Mexico, Chile, Romania, Australia, Sweden, Italy, France, and England.

Endorsements include the Ho-Chunk Nation, Notre Affaire à Tous, Movement Rights, local and state networks within the National Community Rights Network, James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, Vermont National Lawyers Guild, Great Lake Commons, We the People Michigan, Familias Unidas Por La Justicia, Greenpeace USA, participants in the Earth Law Center, Alliance for Democracy, Karenna Gore with Center for Earth Ethics, Dr. Alessandro Pelizzon, artist Andrea Bowers, Valerie Cabanes, youth, teachers, lawyers, farmers, academics, psychologists, nurses, librarians, spiritual leaders, biologists, business owners, and Marie Toussaint (a member of the European Parliament).

Our very system of law is stacked against local people and the natural world, says TSW organizer Bryan Twitchell.

“This court challenge is only the latest instance in a long series of attempts to ensure that the people do not have the means or legal tools to confront the wealthy and the powerful.

“We remain unbowed. This is a movement.”

In response to LEBOR’s passage, corporations and their state allies have unleashed a complex apparatus of repression.

Tish O’Dell, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s Ohio organizer, stated, “LEBOR is the most recent development in the growing Rights of Nature movement. It has touched the nerve of powerful giants within our system of law. Those giants are doing everything they can to stop it, including trouncing on the will of the people to protect the Great Lake. Regardless, and no matter this court’s decision, we are not done fighting for people’s human rights and Rights of Nature.”

About CELDF, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is building a movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international level.

Simon Davis-Cohen is Research and Communications Associate with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.


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