The citizens of Toledo, on the western basin of Lake Erie, will be voting on a legal bill on 26 February. What they will be deciding — does #LakeErie have the same rights as a person or a corporation?

Satellite imagery of a toxic algal bloom on Lake Erie in 2011. The image is gorgeous, but microcystis aeruginosa, the green algae pictured here, is toxic to mammals.
NASA Earth Observatory via Popular Science.

From The Guardian (Daniel McGraw):

The legal bill will allow citizens to sue a polluter on behalf of the lake and for penalties to be imposed

“My gynecologist told me: ‘Don’t even touch the water, it could make you and your baby very sick,’ and that really got to me,” [Crystal Jankowski] said.

“So many of us in the community realized we had to do something about this.”

They did, and the citizens of Toledo, on the western basin of Lake Erie, will now be voting on a controversial legal bill on 26 February. What they will be deciding is whether Lake Erie has the same legal rights as a corporation or person.

There have been cities and townships in the United States that have passed ordinances making some types of polluting illegal, but no American city or state has changed the legality of nature in a way that is this big and this extensive – effectively giving personhood to a gigantic lake.

Called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, it would grant personhood status to the lake, with the citizens being the guardians of the body of water. If passed, citizens could sue a polluter on behalf of the lake, and if the court finds the polluter guilty, the judge could impose penalties in the form of designated clean-ups and/or prevention programs.

“What has happened in Toledo is that we have lost our faith in the current mechanisms of power, and decided to take things into our own hands,” said Bryan Twitchell, a Toledo school teacher.

“We decided it was our personal responsibility to take action and pull us back from that brink so we can live near a healthy lake.”

This type of action has been happening in other parts of the world, but usually has involved smaller ecosystems and legal settlements with indigenous people. New Zealand granted legal personhood to the Te Urewera forest in 2014, and an Indian court granted legal personhood to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in 2017…

The Ohio Farm Bureau is opposed to the proposal, but has done so in a low-key manner. Changes in farming practices need to be based on science and not public votes, and law-abiding business may be unfairly brought into expensive and unnecessary legal proceedings, according to Yvonne Lesicko, vice-president of public policy for Ohio Farm Bureau.

“But this is still a complex issue, and if you say it is not a good idea and it will bring about unnecessary lawsuits, you get portrayed as being anti-Lake Erie and anti-environment and we’re not,” she said.

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