Lake Erie Has the Same Rights as a Human Being
Voters in Toledo, Ohio have recently passed a measure that grants Lake Erie the same legal rights as a human being. Now, one environmentalist from Erie is examining if the same kind of vote can be taken here.
The people of Toledo had all they could take five years ago. Hundreds of thousands of residents could not drink tap water for three days because of a toxic algae bloom on Lake Erie near the city's water intake valve.
It took a while, but environmentalists in Toledo were successful in placing a measure on the ballot last month giving Lake Erie the legal rights of a person. The measure passed, getting the approval of 61 percent of voters.
Tom Fuhrman, an Erie environmentalist, is now studying if such a measure can be on the ballot in the City of Erie or for Erie County as a whole. He says, if the measure gets on the ballot and passes in this area, residents would have legal standing to sue corporate polluters on behalf of the lake. Any damages would be used to deal with the pollution.
Fuhrman says one of the first companies he would go after would be Erie Coke. He hopes to get strong backing from the community for his efforts to someday get the measure on the ballot.
"Yeah, I'm looking at it,” Fuhrman said. “I don't know if our voting laws and our referendum things are any different from Toledo, Ohio, but I'm hoping there's political will. That's what it took up there in Toledo."
Erie Attorney John Carlson believes the Toledo measure is unconstitutional for three reasons. He says it does not allow anyone charged with violating the law to challenge that violation in court. He says the law only applies to corporations, not individual citizens. He also challenges the wording. Carlson says it's too vague.
"What about someone with sunscreen? Is not that individual getting into the water and getting chemicals in the water?" Carlson said.
Carlson says a farming group is the first of perhaps many councils and associations that will challenge the Toledo law. He believes the challenges will be successful.
"I would suggest any municipality or city that wishes to follow by declaring some natural resource legal status might want to pay close attention here. If only for reasons of saving time and money,” he said.