Aerial view of algae blooms in Lake Erie, seen in Sept 2017. Photo: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research

We wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, an initiative that requires the Toledo City Charter be amended to ensure the Lake Erie watershed has legal rights to “exist and flourish,” and provides a right for citizens to sue private actors that threaten the Lake’s health. While the Bill of Rights has been praised by environmental groups and the activists responsible for its passage have been invited to speak at the UN General Assembly next week, farmers and industry groups (includig BP) have actively worked to oppose it. 

Agriculture is big business in Ohio and more than 70% of land in the Maumee watershed, which covers 4 million acres and is the biggest watershed in the Great Lakes is used for farming. As Treehugger explained:

  • Animal feeding operations throughout the watershed have expanded rapidly over the past 15 years, from 9 million animals in 2005 to 20.4 in 2018.
  • But, as the Environmental Working Group states, only operations above a certain size are subject to regulation by government agencies, which means there’s little reliable information on where and how many of these facilities exist, and the amount of manure and phosphorus they produce.
  • Much of this manure is sold to farmers who use it to fertilize croplands, both in solid and liquid form. This is contentious for a few reasons. First, some argue there’s too much manure in the region for it to be applied to farmland at “an agronomic rate” and an alternative means of disposal needs to be found. Second, farmers shouldn’t be spraying liquid manure and should focus on spreading solid instead, as it’s not so prone to runoff.

Farmers don’t want to be limited by how much manure they apply or how they do it and also don’t want to be subject to lawsuits they feel are unjust. In addition, it was revealed this past week that ads which were run in opposition to the Bill of Rights were funded by BP Corp. North America. In a statement from Michael Abendhoff, BP America’s media affairs director, BP funded the ads because it “believes a healthy Lake Erie is important to the region and to our employees who live and work along its shores … That’s why we support the rigorous environmental permitting already in place and strong enforcement of existing laws to help protect this precious natural resource.”

Why This Matters: Toledo, Ohio’s Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz is one of the biggest supporters of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights and for good reason, he knows more than anyone the environmental destruction inflicted on the Great Lake is largely the result of lax environmental laws. The Bill of Rights will undoubtedly be challenged but hopefully, it can become the blueprint for protecting and giving personhood to other national treasures, bodies of water, and natural places. It should also serve as a reminder that our consumption of resources like produce and meat exacts a toll on our planet and that we should actively work to limit our consumption of meat and be mindful of how much produce we purchase and waste.

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