HIstoric  vote in the U.S. recognizes rights of an ecosystem



Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer

TOLEDO, OH:  Fifty years after the media infamously declared “Lake Erie is dead,” Toledo voters recognize that Lake Erie and its entire ecosystem is very much alive – and as such, Lake Erie has the right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.

Despite agricultural and industrial interests’ well-funded campaign opposing the ordinance, with a 61-percent yes vote on Tuesday, Toledo voters have enacted the Lake Erie Bill of Rights Charter Amendment. The law recognizes the rights of the lake and its watershed, and empowers citizens – as part of that larger ecosystem, and who have “the right to a healthy environment” – to stand up for the lake when those rights are violated.

“It was definitely a long, hard struggle to get to this day, but all the hard work and countless volunteer hours by everyone in our local community group has paid off,” stated Crystal Jankowski, a Toledoan for Safe Water organizer. “We started this more than two years ago and had to overcome election board decisions and protests in court just to get on the ballot.”

The first-of-its-kind United States law to acknowledge rights of an entire specific ecosystem, the language of the amendment known as LEBOR was drafted with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).  It is in accord with the larger Rights of Nature movement and philosophy which, over the past decade, has resulted in Ecuador’s 2008 constitutional acknowledgment of the rights of Mother Nature; New Zealand’s 2014 granting legal personhood to the Te Urewera forest; and India’s courts ruling in 2017 that the Ganges and Yamuna rivers have rights to exist, thrive, and evolve.

“We’ve been using the same laws for decades to try and protect Lake Erie. They’re clearly not working,” explained Toledoans for Safe Water activist Markie Miller. “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.”

CELDF applauds Toledoans for Safe Water, their local allies, and state allies with the Ohio Community Rights Network, for their concerted efforts to achieve this result. Most importantly, we honor Toledo voters who have chosen to recognize the rights of Lake Erie as the necessary waters of local life.

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert and exercise their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.


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