The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
In 'Historic Vote,' Ohio City Residents Grant Lake Erie Legal Rights of a Person
By Julia Conley
Tired of receiving notices warning that their drinking water may have been compromised and having little recourse to fight corporate polluters, voters in Toledo, Ohio on Tuesday approved a measure granting Lake Erie some of the same legal rights as a human being.
Sixty-one percent of voters in Tuesday's special election voted in favor of Lake Erie's Bill of Rights, which allows residents to take legal action against entities that violate the lake's rights to "flourish and naturally evolve" without interference.
Toledoans for Safe Water led a years-long campaign to convince voters that their city's charter must be amended to ensure that the "environmental burden" carried by the lake, which provides drinking water to 12 million Americans and Canadians, must be reduced.
"Beginning today, with this historic vote, the people of Toledo and our allies are ushering in a new era of environmental rights by securing the rights of the Great Lake Erie," said Markie Miller of Toledoans for Safe Water in a statement.
Under the Bill of Rights, residents will now have legal standing in court to sue corporate polluters on behalf of Lake Erie and to seek damages which would be used to rid the lake of pollution.
The initiative was modeled on "rights to nature" laws which have passed in Lafayette, Colorado; by the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma and the Chippewa Nation in Minnesota; and countries including India and Nepal.
Toledoans for Safe Water began their campaign in 2016 in response to a drinking water crisis in the area two years earlier. Five hundred thousand residents of the Toledo area were advised not to drink or use their tap water for three days due to a toxic algae bloom that had been detected in the water system.
"People need to start relying on our democracy to hold polluters accountable," Mike Ferner of another local group, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE), told the Toledo Blade. "Regulatory agencies have not been doing their jobs for a long time. We're still going to try to get them to do what they're supposed to do. But there's no reason to be limited just to that if there are creative approaches out there such as the Lake Erie Bill of Rights."
The groups were up against the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, which argued that businesses and farmers may now face high costs of complying with the new law and legal bills if they pollute Lake Erie.
"What Toledo voters and other places working on rights of nature are hoping is to not only change laws but to change culture," Tish O'Dell, an organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which assisted the local campaigners, told The Progressive. "So much of our way of thinking about our relationship with nature has to change. We are not separate from nature but part of nature. Nature is living and that right to thrive, flourish and be healthy needs to be recognized. Nature doesn't need us to survive but we need nature to survive."
- Lake Erie Bill of Rights passes in Toledo, Ohio special election - Vox ›
- Lake Erie Bil of Rights ›
- Lake Erie Bill of Rights - Home | Facebook ›
- Lake Erie Bill of Rights headed to Feb. 26 ballot | Toledo Blade ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Low-Fat Diets Rich in Fruits and Veggies May Reduce Women’s Risk of Breast Cancer Death, Study Finds
Colorado senator and 2020 hopeful Michael Bennet introduced his plan to combat climate change Monday, in the first major policy rollout of his campaign. Bennet's plan calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank," using $1 trillion in federal spending to "catalyze" $10 trillion in private spending for the U.S. to transition entirely to net-zero emissions by 2050.
When Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan in August 2018, its own estimates said the reduced regulations could lead to 1,400 early deaths a year from air pollution by 2030.
Now, the EPA wants to change the way it calculates the risks posed by particulate matter pollution, using a model that would lower the death toll from the new plan, The New York Times reported Monday. Five current or former EPA officials familiar with the plan told The Times that the new method would assume there is no significant health gain by lowering air pollution levels below the legal limit. However, many public health experts say that there is no safe level of particulate matter exposure, which has long been linked to heart and lung disease.
By Andrea Germanos
Animal welfare advocates are praising soon-to-be introduced legislation in the U.S. that would ban the use of wild animals in traveling circuses.