The harmful Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) prevailed in a Toledo special election marked by 9 percent voter turnout. The Ohio Chamber strongly opposed the initiative and its radical legal theory that purports to endow Lake Erie and its entire ecosystem with judicially enforceable rights.
LEBOR is the result of a sustained effort by groups funded with out of state dollars to enact anti-business local regulations throughout Ohio. Their typical playbook is to seize on local discussions, in this case the health of Lake Erie, and hijack them to further their divisive agenda. Activists have placed a similar initiative on the ballot before in Youngstown where it has been rejected eight times.
With the initiative’s passage, businesses are now potentially subject to lawsuits for practices that are otherwise fully in compliance with these environmental laws and permitted by state and federal regulators. The initiative also explicitly exposes governments throughout the Lake Erie ecosystem to suit, including foreign jurisdictions, which will needlessly jeopardize the cross-border collaboration necessary to improve the health of the lake.
While a lawsuit seeking to strike down the proposal as illegal and unconstitutional was filed yesterday in federal court, there will be uncertainty for some time around the implications of LEBOR’s enactment for the business community.
Federal and state environmental laws reflect decades-long efforts to build consensus on the right balance between growth and environmental protection. LEBOR’s passage upends this framework, opens local businesses to costly lawsuits and threatens the important work being done to protect Lake Erie.