LAKE ERIE JUST WON THE SAME LEGAL RIGHTS AS PEOPLE
Ohio voters passed groundbreaking legislation that allows citizens to sue on behalf of the lake when it’s being polluted.
It started in a pub. A handful of people, hunched over beers in Toledo, Ohio, were talking about a water crisis that had plagued the city in 2014. The pollution of Lake Erie had gotten so bad that it had taken a serious toll on their lives. The government, they felt, wasn’t doing enough to protect the lake. And so they wondered: What if the lake could protect itself?
The idea they hatched that night ultimately resulted in a special election, which had the citizens of Toledo voting Tuesday on a very unusual question: Should Lake Erie be granted the legal rights normally reserved for a person?
The measure passed easily, which means citizens will be able to sue on behalf of the lake whenever its right to flourish is being contravened — that is, whenever it’s in danger of major environmental harm.
“There’s a lot of nervous energy,” Tish O’Dell, who was at the pub that fateful night, told me while traveling between different polling places in Toledo on Tuesday morning. She was on tenterhooks as she waited for the election results. “It’s like torture.”
If the stakes felt almost unbearably high for the activists who pushed for the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, it’s because this was the first rights-based legislation aimed at protecting a whole US ecosystem: the lake, its tributaries, and the many species that live off it.
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