In 2017, the government of New Zealand enacted the Te Awa Tupua Act, which afforded the Whanganui River the same legal rights that human beings enjoy under New Zealand law. In February of 2019, voters in the City of Toledo, Ohio attempted to follow New Zealand’s lead, approving a referendum to amend the City Charter to adopt the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights.” The measure, in theory at least, grants Lake Erie “the right to exist, flourish and naturally evolve,” and gives Toledo citizens the right to “a clean and healthy environment.” But the measure is already under threat, as local agricultural interests and the State of Ohio have filed suit, claiming the Lake Erie Bill of Rights violates the federal constitution. Dana Zartner is an associate professor in the International Studies program of the University of San Francisco and an adjunct professor in the School of Law.
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