Court Breathes New Life into Lake Erie Bill of Rights Legal Fight

Imperiled Lake Erie must be protected. Lake Erie Bill of Rights lives to fight another day, but still faces obstacles.

On October 1, an Ohio court of appeals reversed a previous trial court order, ruling residents suing to enforce the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) and hold the State of Ohio accountable for its failure to protect Lake Erie have stated a legitimate claim. The court also suggested the State of Ohio has been hypocritical and may not be fulfilling its obligations toward Lake Erie and her people. The state argues it is protecting Lake Erie—which is the people of Toledo’s drinking water supply—but instead is busy trying to slow down the people of Toledo from advancing historic Rights of Nature protections for the imperiled lake.

“The state keeps claiming it has the sole power to protect Lake Erie, then why don’t they protect it already? The people have no illusions that the courts or this ruling will save them or the lake. Lake Erie turns green and poisonous with toxic algae year after year and the state not only does nothing, it protects the polluters and fights the people who are attempting to protect the lake,” says CELDF Ohio Organizer Tish O’Dell. “This ruling at least validates the people’s instinct to keep fighting for the lake and their community any way they can. We will fight however we can, wherever we can.”

Yesterday’s ruling is “vindication of what we have been saying, and what has been obvious to anyone who lives near the lake: The state has abandoned its duty to defend the public good in favor of selling out to agricultural lobbyists and factory farms, with predictably disastrous results,” says Bryan Twitchell, one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.

LEBOR joins other local Rights of Nature laws in the United States, including in Grant Township, Pennsylvania and Lincoln County, Oregon that have made inroads into the legal system. The court said yesterday that the state’s argument “appears opposite” to one it argued in a federal case against LEBOR.

“While it helps to claim a victory in court, that is not the only way we build a movement,” says Markie Miller, a petitioner for LEBOR and organizer with Toledoans for Safe Water. “Laws should reflect our ethics, not guide them. We can’t throw these debates to the courts.”

The ruling follows August oral arguments about the Rights of Nature lawsuit. “A century from now, if our species survives, people will undoubtedly wonder how we could possibly have defined Lake Erie, a necessity for survival, as mere property to be exploited instead of a living and life-giving body with an inherent right to be healthy,” said plaintiff Mike Ferner at that hearing.

CELDF celebrates the people of Toledo. Their fight to protect Lake Erie, their lifeblood, has been an uphill battle from the start. They were the underdogs to get on the ballot, during the campaign to pass the law, and now in the courts. They keep showing others what it takes to protect what you love.

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.