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Burke proposes Great Lakes Bill of Rights

A sunset over Lake Erie, viewed from Hamburg.
Chris Caya
A sunset over Lake Erie, viewed from Hamburg.

State Assemblymember Patrick Burke has introduced legislation in Albany to create a Great Lakes Bill of Rights.

The South Buffalo Democrat said the bill would secure legal rights for the entire ecosystem, and give people and nature a role in the decision-making process regarding current and future Great Lakes projects.

"Lake Erie is a vital part of everyday life for Western New Yorkers, providing drinking water to millions of people and businesses,” Burke said. “If that water becomes polluted, our communities come to a screeching halt. Folks who live here deserve the right to protect our environment and fight back against corporate polluters that put Lake Erie and our health at risk.”

Burke received help in drafting the bill from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has been involved in Rights of Nature legislation for more than two decades, helping dozens of communities across at least 10 states.

Burke's Bill of Rights maintains that no person, institution or nation has the right or authority to participate in activities that contribute to irreversible changes to natural events. The bill would also allow the state or localities to sue polluters who negatively affect Lakes Erie and Ontario and their feedwaters, within New York State's jurisdiction.