The group Citizens for the Rights of the Ohio River Watershed, or CROW, kicked off a petition drive to protect the Ohio River with what’s known as a “rights of nature” law.
The Ohio River is polluted by agricultural runoff and by industrial sources like Dupont and Shell. It’s just been named one of the nation’s most endangered rivers.
“There are thousands of permits allowed for permitting pollution along the Ohio,” said CROW’s Deborah Jordan, who doesn’t think current regulations are protecting the watershed ecosystem. “Who’s standing up and speaking for the Ohio River and saying, ‘We don’t want any more pollution’?”
CROW created the Ohio River Bill of Rights to shift the legal view from nature as property, to one that acknowledges the rights of the river’s ecosystem.
“The Bill of Rights is stating that the Ohio River watershed has a right to thrive and exist on its own, not just as property to be exploited,” Jordan said.
The group has started collecting signatures, in hopes that Cincinnati voters might decide in November whether to give the river legal protection.
A similar initiative, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, was passed by Toledo voters in 2019 but was overturned in federal court for being too vague. CROW has used that ruling to make its initiative more specific.
“They’ve taken what Toledo had done and expanded it because one of the criticisms in the court was that it doesn’t really spell out how this would be enforced, how would this work if it actually was instituted?,” said Tish O’Dell of CELDF, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is working with citizens on the issue.
She said the Ohio River bill creates a position in the city, the Ecosystem Advocate, and an Ecosystem Commission. It also creates an alternative court called the Ecosystem Court.
This is a good time of year to start campaigning for the initiative, according to CROW’s Jordan, who said they will be collecting signatures at Earth Day events.