#ColoradoRiver “Rights of Nature” lawsuit #COriver

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

From the Boulder Weekly (Angela K. Evans):

A new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver on Sept. 25 is asking a judge to treat the Colorado River as a person rather than property, therefore recognizing its right “to exist, flourish, regenerate, and naturally evolve.” It makes the argument that if corporations in the U.S. can be granted the same rights as people, shouldn’t rivers be allowed that status as well?

The Colorado River as an ecosystem is the plaintiff in the case, with members of Deep Green Resistance, an environmental activist group, listed as guardians or next friends, acting on the river’s behalf. And it sets the State of Colorado as the defendant, seeking to set precedence for future lawsuits that could hold the government responsible for certain actions, or inactions, that have caused the river harm.

“Normally in environmental law you have to show how some sort of action, be it state action or a corporate action, injures a human being,” says Denver attorney Jason Flores-Williams, who filed the case on the river’s behalf. “Even though we know at this point scientifically that injuries to the environment are injuries to human beings, the law hasn’t caught up to it yet.”

The suit is based on the rights of nature philosophy, a growing movement in environmental law that hopes to establish the inherent rights of the natural world to exist and flourish independent of human ownership or use. Although the idea has been around for decades, it has gained momentum in recent years as climate change and other human factors increasingly threaten entire ecosystems.

“There’s a growing understanding that environmental frameworks that exist today under environmental laws are not adequate to protect the environment,” says Mari Margil, with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which is acting as legal advisor in the case. “They begin from the wrong place, the wrong premise, that nature is treated as right-less, as property, and therefore we can’t even protect its basic right to exist let alone to flourish.”

By authorizing the use of the natural environment, Margil says, existing environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act, actually are “legalizing environmental harm.” Therefore, these laws are lacking in their attempt to actually protect and preserve the natural world, she argues.

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