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Court Overturns Lake Erie Bill of Rights

Judge Silences People and Nature on Behalf of Corporate Voices


February 28, 2020


Toledoans for Safe Water (TSW)

Markie Miller, organizer

Crystal Jankowski, organizer

Toledo, OH: Yesterday, federal judge Jack Zouhary joined a long list of enablers complicit in the destruction of the natural world. In an unfortunate but predictable decision, he invalidated the democratically enacted Lake Erie Bill of Rights (“LEBOR”). This local charter amendment was the first of its kind in the United States.

His decision comes at a time when the pollution of Lake Erie is intensifying, resulting in dangerous toxic algal blooms that threaten the drinking water for 11 million people and the health of Lake Erie.

LEBOR would allow residents to bring lawsuits on behalf of Lake Erie instead of depending on state government or regulatory agencies. Both the government and its agencies have not only consistently failed to enact adequate protections for Lake Erie, but have legalized harm to her and the people.

“Today we find that Zouhary’s ruling lacks the courage needed to create a just system and thriving community,” says Crystal Jankowski of Toledoans for Safe Water (TSW). “In the words of Howard Zinn, ‘Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.’ Our childrens’ future is on the line and you have the choice to remain willfully ignorant or take action.

"Zouhary admits that “LEBOR has already injured the State: at least on paper, State laws, regulations, licenses, and permits are invalid in Toledo to the extent they conflict with LEBOR.” This admission that LEBOR successfully challenges state pollution permits supports the claims made by Toledoans that legalized and permitted pollution has a negative impact on Lake Erie.

“It is insulting for Zouhary to claim that the state has suffered such an artificial injury when 500,000 individuals endured three days without access to clean and safe drinking water. That pain was real, not just on paper, and will live with the people of Toledo forever,” said Bryan Twitchell, Toledo resident and TSW organizer.

"Judge Zouhary is helping to expose the truth about who and what the laws protect. It's not people and communities. It's not nature. This decision will help fuel momentum as more and more people understand what is at stake - and the system that is trying to stop us. As our values evolve as a society, our laws will follow," said TSW organizer Hilary Tore.

LEBOR has sparked a global conversation and inspired similar initiatives in Hawaii, Florida, and the state of Washington.

"As our options within the system are shut down, Toledoans must decide whether or not Lake Erie is worth fighting for,” says Markie Miller of TSW. “As long as there is a Lake to protect we won’t be going anywhere.”

We have been shown, time and time again, that the common peoples’ voices are the easiest to ignore. As the world faces unprecedented change, now is a crucial moment. We must stand together and unite in the fight for a healthy and thriving environment. We must call on the City of Toledo to appeal this decision, but also on the people of Toledo to stand with TSW and work together to fight for the change that has to happen. Our silence will not protect us.

Get involved with Toledoans for Safe Water at


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