Denver: Public Trust lawsuit filed over the “rights” of the #ColoradoRiver #COriver

A heron at rest along the bank of the Colorado River. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism.

From The New York Times (Julie Turkewitz):

If successful, [the lawsuit] could upend environmental law, possibly allowing the redwood forests, the Rocky Mountains or the deserts of Nevada to sue individuals, corporations and governments over resource pollution or depletion. Future lawsuits in its mold might seek to block pipelines, golf courses or housing developments and force everyone from agriculture executives to mayors to rethink how they treat the environment.

Several environmental law experts said the suit had a slim chance at best. “I don’t think it’s laughable,” said Reed Benson, chairman of the environmental law program at the University of New Mexico. “But I think it’s a long shot in more ways than one.”

The suit was filed Monday in Federal District Court in Colorado by Jason Flores-Williams, a Denver lawyer. It names the river ecosystem as the plaintiff — citing no specific physical boundaries — and seeks to hold the state of Colorado and Gov. John Hickenlooper liable for violating the river’s “right to exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve.”

Because the river cannot appear in court, a group called Deep Green Resistance is filing the suit as an ally, or so-called next friend, of the waterway.

If a corporation has rights, the authors argue, so, too, should an ancient waterway that has sustained human life for as long as it has existed in the Western United States. The lawsuit claims the state violated the river’s right to flourish by polluting and draining it and threatening endangered species. The claim cites several nations whose courts or governments have recognized some rights for natural entities.

The lawsuit drew immediate criticism from conservative lawmakers, who called it ridiculous. “I think we can all agree rivers and trees are not people,” said Senator Steve Daines of Montana. “Radical obstructionists who contort common sense with this sort of nonsense undercut credible conservationists.”

The office of Mr. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, declined to comment.

The lawsuit comes as hurricanes and wildfires in recent weeks have left communities across the country devastated, intensifying the debate over how humans should treat the earth in the face of global climate change.

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