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Friday, 29 September 2017 06:54

Lawsuit Seeks Personhood Rights for Colorado River

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coloriverpersonWhat about river personhood? (Photo: Cathryn)

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If corporations have personhood, based in part on the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling, then why shouldn't rivers and other natural features? That's a question that a recent case filed in Denver asks, according to a September 25 New York Times article. In this case, the contention by the plaintiffs is that the Colorado River should have the rights of an individual to sue various governmental and private entities:

Does a river -- or a plant, or a forest -- have rights?

This is the essential question in what attorneys are calling a first-of-its-kind federal lawsuit, in which a Denver lawyer and a[n] ... environmental group are asking a judge to recognize the Colorado River as a person....

The suit was filed Monday in Federal District Court in Colorado by Jason Flores-Williams, a Denver lawyer. It names the river ecosystem as the plaintiff -- citing no specific physical boundaries -- and seeks to hold the state of Colorado and Gov. John Hickenlooper liable for violating the river's "right to exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve."

Because the river cannot appear in court, a group called Deep Green Resistance is filing the suit as an ally, or so-called next friend, of the waterway.

The Times notes that "several environmental law experts said the suit had a slim chance at best." However, just how extreme has the pendulum shifted toward businesses that they are considered to have rights that they share with individual people, but the natural environment upon which we depend and beautifies the earth is considered to have no legal standing? Isn't the Colorado River alive with fish and marine life as it rushes through bends and turns (including the Grand Canyon), traveling 1,450 miles across several states, supplying fresh water to millions of people?

An article in Smithsonian Magazine ran a story headlined, "The Colorado River Runs Dry: Dams, irrigation and now climate change have drastically reduced the once-mighty river. Is it a sign of things to come?" While corporations tout their "personhood" at times, the very source of sustaining life -- such as water -- does not have any rights. As a result, it is in peril:

"Climate change will likely decrease the river's flow by 5 to 20 percent in the next 40 years," says geoscientist Brad Udall, director of the University of Colorado Western Water Assessment. Less precipitation in the Rocky Mountains will yield less water to begin with. Droughts will last longer. Higher overall air temperatures will mean more water lost to evaporation. "You're going to see earlier runoff and lower flows later in the year," so water will be more scarce during the growing season, says Udall....

Patricia Mulroy, a board member of the Colorado-based Water Research Foundation, which promotes the development of safe, affordable drinking water worldwide [says that] people need a "fundamental, cultural attitude change about water supply in the Southwest." She adds, "It's not abundant, it's not reliable, it's not going to always be there."

In short, corporations are not vital to our existence, but fresh water supplies like the Colorado River are. Thus, the concept of personhood for a river -- or for a lake or the sky for that matter -- is far more appropriate than using it for businesses.

According to Court House News Service,

Citing recent rulings in Ecuador, Colombia, India and some U.S. municipalities which have recognized that rivers, glaciers and other ecosystems may be treated as legal persons, the plaintiffs ask the court to grant the Colorado River ecosystem a person, capable of possessing rights, and that among these rights are the right "to exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve."

It asks also that Deep Green Resistance be recognized as a guardian and/or next friend of the river, and be allowed to sue the State of Colorado on the river's behalf.

Deep Green Resistance member Deanna Meyer, a plaintiff, said in a statement: "Without the recognition that the Colorado River possesses certain rights of its own, it will always be subject to wide-scale exploitation without any real consequences. I'm proud to stand with the other next friends in this lawsuit to enforce and defend the rights of the Colorado, and we're calling on groups across the country to do the same to protect the last remaining wild places in this country and beyond."

Who is closer to our individual personhood, General Electric or rivers such as the Colorado? After all, the former exploits us and the latter nourishes us?

In the Boulder Weekly, one attorney goes so far as to state that injuries to the environment are often related to harm to human health. The Boulder Weekly also notes that the lawsuit is, in part, being filed to assert human and natural rights over property rights:

Now, the very premise of this system is being challenged in court. A new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver on Sept. 25 is asking a judge to treat the Colorado River as a person rather than property, therefore recognizing its right "to exist, flourish, regenerate, and naturally evolve."

Humans and rivers share many things in common. For one, they are both natural. The same cannot be said for corporations.