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LEBOR appeal fails (Editorial)

by | May 29, 2020

In February 2019, voters in Toledo, Ohio approved the Lake Erie Bill of Rights during a special election.
The bill allowed Toledo citizens to sue polluters on behalf of the lake and declared that Lake Erie had a right to exist, flourish and naturally evolve.
The day after the special vote, an Ohio farmer, Mark Drewes, filed a lawsuit against LEBOR, challenging its constitutionality. The state of Ohio later joined Drewes in the suit, asking the court to invalidate the bill.
In February this year, federal Judge Jack Zouhary deemed the measure invalid writing in his decision that it was “not even a close call.”
The judge took issue with the bill’s vagueness, not clearly defining the lake’s rights or what constitutes a violation of its rights.
Zouhary said because of the vagueness, applying fertilizer, fishing, driving a car, and planting crops could all be argued as violations under the bill.
“LEBOR’s authors failed to make hard choices regarding the appropriate balance between environmental protection and economic activity. Instead, they employed language that sounds powerful but has no practical meaning,” Zouhary wrote.
The city of Toledo filed an appeal in March but on May 5, asked for a dismissal, which the court granted, ending the year’s long battle.
Generally, what happens in the Lake Erie watershed is not of much concern to farmers in the Mid-Atlantic region, but LEBOR’s perceived overreach sparked conversations around the world about rights of nature.
Were the bill to be upheld in court, it’s not that much of a leap to envision a city in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed pushing for a Bay bill of rights.
While this particular chapter may have ended, the book on attempts to further regulate farmers in how they operate is still wide open.
LEBOR’s dismissal shows how important and effective agricultural advocacy is in preserving fairness under the law.
Agriculture was not the only industry that would have fallen under the threat of lawsuits by Toledo residents and groups but it was a farmer who stepped forward to challenge the bill.
That advocacy also includes promoting farmers’ stewardship of the land and natural resources.
People know farmers use fertilizer to grow their crops, but they likely don’t know how much more efficient they have become with better technology in crop genetics, equipment and timing. The same goes for fuel consumption.
People know farmers raise animals but they don’t see the effort that goes into doing the job.
Shortly after Drewes filed his lawsuit, a group of Ohio farm organizations issued a call to action to its members that still holds true today, no matter where you farm.
“This is an urgent time to talk to your neighbors,” the groups wrote in an open letter. “Share how the vast majority of farmers in Ohio are being proactive in finding a balance between production food and protecting water.
“These are tough conversations but they are necessary conversations. We need to make our case to those who need to hear it.”

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