A key court date for LEBOR is scheduled for January 28


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On February 26, 2019 the people of Toledo, Ohio, made history by passing the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR). The law was the first-in-the-nation to recognize the rights of a specific ecosystem to exist, flourish, and evolve, representing an exciting step forward for the global Rights of Nature movement.

Its aim: to protect the critical ecosystem of Lake Erie. For decades, the Lake has suffered from industrial dumping, pesticide use, manure and nutrient runoff, fossil fuel processing, and a warming climate. The government’s failure to act substantively on behalf of the people and the Lake drove Toledoans to do so instead.

Since they adopted LEBOR, the people of Toledo have received support from communities across the country and around the world. The City of Toledo has backed LEBOR as well, arguing Toledoans possess due process rights to a clean and healthy environment.

However, they have also faced orchestrated efforts to overturn or undermine the groundbreaking law from all branches of state government, corporate lobbies, and private law firms. These efforts began with a corporate lawsuit filed by Drewes Farm Partnership LLC.

Now, we approach oral arguments in that case. On January 28, Drewes Farm Partnership will argue LEBOR violated its corporate constitutional right to pollute. Ohio state attorneys will assist as intervening plaintiffs

To be clear: the democratically elected Attorney General assigned tax-payer supported state attorneys to help overturn the people’s law to protect the Great Lake Erie and their own health, safety, and welfare.

The democratically elected Attorney General assigned tax-payer supported state attorneys to help overturn the people’s law to protect the Great Lake Erie and their own health, safety, and welfare.

Clearly, LEBOR has struck a nerve. It is a spear launched by the people at a body of law built to privilege corporate power and commerce above the most basic rights to water and life – and it has hit its mark. 

We documented the many tentacles of the Ohio corporate state in our report, In Plain Sight last fall. The report highlights opposition to the Lake Erie Bill of Rights:

  • Corporate Campaign Financing: British Petroleum North America financed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights opposition campaign with over $300,000. In contrast, the community groups budget was $6,000.
  • Corporate Lawsuit: The day after the Lake Erie Bill of Rights was passed by voters, Drewes Farms filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Toledo. The corporate farm argued that the law violated its corporate constitutional rights.
  • Office of the Attorney General: In May 2019, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost officially entered this lawsuit against the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, but not on the side of the people and the Lake. He sided with the corporate polluter.
  • Excluded from the Courts: Affected residents were denied entrance into the case against the Lake Erie Bill of Rights and so prevented from defending their law with lawyers. Three Toledo petitioners instead filed their own lawsuit against the State of Ohio without lawyers. The lawsuit argued the state had violated the basic contract between residents and their government for protection of rights, environment, and drinking water, and residentsright to self-govern. The State of Ohio filed a Motion to Dismiss this lawsuit.
  • Ohio Legislature: The 2020-2021 state budget included language with the aim of stripping citizens and any government of the right to file lawsuits or legal arguments on behalf of nature or ecosystems. It also declared that Nature has no enforceable rights in Ohio.
  • Ohio Chamber of Commerce: authored anti-Rights-of-Nature language for the Ohio budget bill. Email correspondence uncovered by the Ohio Community Rights Network (OHCRN) showed that this was a direct effort to block future efforts similar to the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

  • Office of the Governor: in July 2019, Governor Mike DeWine signed the 2020-2021 state budget despite its aforementioned undemocratic language.

Despite these efforts, and regardless of the Drewes’ lawsuit outcome, the Rights of Nature genie is out of its bottle. LEBOR made national and international headlines in The New York Times, The Guardian, Reuters, Vox, Le Monde, Salon, Bloomberg, Mother Jones, Democracy Now!, CBC, CNN, The Daily Show, among others. It has sparked Rights of Nature efforts in other states, including over a dozen communities in Florida, and inspired continued efforts by communities working to protect the Salish Sea in Washington state and multiple rivers in Oregon.

Justice is not served by the courts, but demanded by the people. We are at the start of a movement, and there is no silver bullet. Toledoans for Safe Water and CELDF are confronting some of the most powerful interests in Ohio and the United States.

Global youth strike for climate justice, Nottingham market square, by kthtrnr, Flickr Creative Commons flic.kr/p/24zR37K

Stand with us. Together, we will succeed.

Sign up here to show your support for the Lake Erie Bill of Rights before the January 28th oral arguments in federal court.

Learn more about the triumph of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights at the ballot last February here

CELDF assisted Toledoans for Safe Water to draft and defend their historic law. Across the United States, we have assisted hundreds of communities to advance Community Rights and Rights of Nature laws. Nearly 200 of them are codified in law. Your support makes our work possible – please donate today.

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