Monday, June 3, 2019

Toledo's Lake Erie Bill of Rights faces legal jeopardy from state and corporate interests

At the end of April, Vox reported on something that sounds extraordinary, This lake now has legal rights, just like you, Toledo's Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

Why the “rights of nature” could be the next frontier for environmentalism.
The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is the first law of its kind in the United States. In February of 2019, the residents of Toledo, Ohio voted to give Lake Erie's entire ecosystem legal rights. That means any citizen of Toledo, if they have credible evidence that a corporation or government is harming the lake, can file a lawsuit on behalf of Lake Erie in court.

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is part of a larger movement to give legal rights to mountains, rivers, forests, and other natural objects. The citizens of these communities -- from Pennsylvania, to Ecuador, to New Zealand -- argue that because their long-term survival is dependent on the health of their natural surroundings, anything that harms the lakes, rivers, or forests they depend on should be considered a legal harm.

It’s a totally new way of approaching the law, and it could change the very nature of our relationship with the natural world. This is how one community in Ohio started what they hope will be a nationwide movement.
Of course, this attracted significant opposition.  Follow over the jump to read the rest of the story.

Last month, WNWO reported on the campaign to defeat the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR).
Campaign finance records show BP Corporation North America, which owns a refinery in Oregon, paid $302,000 to fight the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. More than $130,000 of that went to two companies in Virginia for radio ads, consulting, and direct mailings targeting voters. Those companies are registered to Mary Cheney who is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Before the White House he was the CEO of a major oil company.

“Corporations are holding communities hostage,” said Miller.
That didn't stop the charter amendment.
Even with big money against the [initiative,] voters wanted change. In February during a special election it passed with more than 60% of the vote.
Just the same, business interests continued their opposition in the courts once the charter amendment passed.
The Drewes Farms Partnership based in Custar, Wood County, says the charter amendment is unconstitutional.

“The law’s just passed, we get about 10 minutes to celebrate, it’s not even on the books yet, and everybody wakes up to a lawsuit,” said [Markie] Miller [who formed Toledoans for Safe Water in 2016].

A judge has issued a temporary injunction while he hears both sides. That means no one can sue until this case is settled and its deemed constitutional.
Now the State of Ohio is taking the side of business, as Press Publications reported just last Friday in State files to invalidate lake bill of rights.
Attorney General Dave Yost’s office filed a complaint May 24 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District Court of Ohio for the injunction. It argues, among other points, the charter amendment “purports to grant rights that exceed the city’s authority and conflict with Ohio environmental, agricultural, natural resources, and corporate laws. Thus, the charter amendment is preempted by the general laws of Ohio.”
“Due to both federal delegation and state law, Ohio regulates, administers, and enforces environmental, agricultural, and natural resources laws and rules affecting Lake Erie and the waters feeding it,” the complaint says. “Ohio EPA’s environmental laws and rules are general laws applicable state-wide that are part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme prescribing general rules of conduct for all Ohio citizens.”
“The charter amendment seeks to recognize the ‘Lake Erie Ecosystem’ as a legal entity by utilizing a natural rights theory that unlawfully undermines Lake Erie’s status as public trust waters and lands reserved to the State of Ohio and by attempting to confer legal standing to the Lake Erie Ecosystem separate and distinct from the State of Ohio’s trust estate,” the complaint says.

It also argues the federal government delegated authority to Ohio to implement water pollution discharges under the Clean Water Act and the charter amendment would impede that authority.
Meanwhile, the citizens group behind the charter amendment can't join the lawsuit.  As The Toledo Blade reported last month, Judge rules Toledoans for Safe Water group can't help city in Lake Erie Bill of Rights lawsuit.
Though lauded by the United Nations on Earth Day just a little more than two weeks ago, supporters of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights have been dealt a major setback by U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary.

The judge ruled Tuesday he will not allow Toledoans for Safe Water — the group behind the successful voter-approved ballot initiative — to assist the city of Toledo in defending the bill against a lawsuit seeking to nullify it on grounds it is “unconstitutional and unlawful.”
In his order denying involvement by Toledoans for Safe Water, the judge said he understands why the group "has an interest in defending the fruit of its efforts against invalidation." However, he cited case law that states a group involved in getting a controversial law passed "does not have substantial legal interest in the subject matter of a lawsuit challenging the legality of that already-enacted law."

He added the "rights of nature" concept is not recognized by federal courts and that allowing Toledoans for Safe Water to intervene would "unduly delay this lawsuit."

While Judge Zouhary has blocked the activist group’s further involvement in the case, he granted a motion May 1 to allow the DeWine administration to continue helping Drewes Farms in its lawsuit against the city.
Sigh.  Things do not look good for the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

I plan on keeping my readers updated on this case.  Stay tuned.

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