Game changer: Ohio voters approve legal rights for Lake Erie (“If corporations have rights…”)
Voters in Toledo, Ohio, voted overwhelmingly to approve the so-called Lake Erie Bill Of Rights— a declaration that the lake, which supplies drinking water to Toledo and many surrounding communities, has the legal right to be protected from harm from human activity. The final tally was 61% in favor of the charter amendment and 39% opposed.
Toledo As Legal Guardian For Lake Erie
The new law will allow the people of Toledo to act as legal guardians for Lake Erie. It’s as if the residents of Toledo are the parents of the lake and it is their child. Polluters can now be sued to pay for cleanup costs and pollution prevention programs. “It was definitely a long, hard struggle … but all the hard work and countless volunteer hours by everyone in our local community group has paid off,” said Crystal Jankowski, a Toledoans for Safe Water organizer tells The Guardian.
The ballot initiative has been strongly opposed by the business and agricultural community, including Murray Energy, the largest privately owned coal company in America. It is owned by Robert Murray, the man who has the ear of the alleged president and has been instrumental in Trump’s insane campaign pledge to reinvigorate the coal industry.
Let The Law Suits Begin!
Within 12 hours of the election, a lawsuit was filed in the US district court in Toledo by the owners of a farm that grows corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa 40 miles southeast of Toledo. It contends that the Lake Erie Bill of Rights measure is unconstitutional and unlawful and will put the fifth-generation family farm at risk.
That may be so, but the prodigious amount of fertilizer and pesticides used on area farms and which then drain into Lake Erie may be essential to conventional agricultural techniques. The Ohio Farm Bureau even admits its members are primarily responsible for the deadly algae blooms that have made Lake Erie water unsafe to drink on several recent occasions. That opposition is compatible with contemporary neo-liberal capitalist theory, which holds it is perfectly permissible to dump your toxic waste on the property of others without paying to clean up your mess because, you know, profits!
Heads We Win, Tails You Lose
The Toledo law comes at an interesting time in America. The EPA under the fossil fuel company stooges appointed by the #FakePresident now takes the position that it is up to the states and local communities to protect waterways. Okay. Toledo is doing exactly what the EPA said it should do. But it won’t be long before the Trumpies are screaming to any judge who will listen that what Toledo did violates federal laws.
This maladministration, which has been said this week to be more like The Sopranos than The Apprentice, wants to shrink the size of the federal government but it wants to retain the power to jam its views on transportation emissions down the throats of California and 18 other states. Its astounding “heads we win, tails you lose” hypocrisy is unfortunately lost on Trump’s hand-picked factotums.
Water & Politics
Water was a big factor in the Trump victory in 2016, as many midwestern and western groups, especially farmers, were bitterly opposed to the burdens placed upon them by the Clean Water Act, claiming it turned every mud puddle and water filled pothole into a federally protected body of water.
Concern for their fellow citizens and the environment have no place in business decisions, they argue, if it means lower profits. Freedom, according to their view, means being able to injure the health and safety of your neighbors without suffering any consequences. How such specious reasoning can capture the minds of theoretically intelligent people is a great mystery to many.
Be Careful What You Wish For
But for Andrew Wheeler and all the “shrink the size of government” advocates, the old adage “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” is beginning to play out. Organizers from communities all around America came to Toledo during the most recent campaign to find out what that city was doing and learn how they could take those lessons home to their own communities in Silicon Valley, Salt Lake City, on Chesapeake, Bay and along the Atlantic coast of Maine.
“We had representatives from Florida who came up here to work on our campaign because they want to see what they can do about the recent big algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico they have suffered from,” says Markie Miller, a local Toledo theater manager and one of the organizers who helped get the Lake Erie Bill of Rights on the ballot.
Protection For Those Most Affected
The farmers cannot be ignored, however. People who face the loss of their livelihood can become fierce political opponents. They are the people who supported Trump in large numbers, believing he would magically restore their jobs in dying industries because he said he would. In the transition to a low carbon economy, the people who will have their lives disrupted the most need to be protected from economic harm. This is one of the basic tenets of the Green New Deal.
Yet farming contributes heavily to the emissions that are driving the world toward an existential crisis. If we are to avoid, 2, 3, or 4 degrees Celsius of global warming, traditional farming has to go away and be replaced with more sustainable methods. If that means eating less meat and dairy, if that means fewer fertilizers and pesticides created from oil, so be it. Nobody has the right to put the world at risk for the sake of profits.
Will The Courts Protect Lake Erie & Us?
In a statement, the Ohio Farm Bureau said it believes “that its passage means Ohio farmers, taxpayers and businesses now face the prospect of costly legal bills.” It also will “likely be found unconstitutional and unenforceable.”
Bryan Twitchell, a Toledo school teacher who worked to get the bill on the ballot, isn’t buying it.
“To be quite frank about this, the reaction of the farmer and business lobbyists and some politicians who had opposed this bill makes me think that they have had long enough time to show results in getting the lake clean from their efforts. We found out we were better off standing up for our interests in this and we can do a better job of running this lake cleanup ourselves,” he said.
It will be up to the courts now. Given the drive to put as many pro-Koch Brothers acolytes as possible on the federal bench, the prospect of getting anything like environmental justice from the courts is mixed, at best, especially since reactionaries have been successful at getting two rabid “turn back the clock” justices on the Supreme Court. “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)