Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we need to adopt new legal structures recognizing Rights of Nature for the Estuary?

Major environmental laws – including the federal Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and similar state laws – were adopted in the United States over forty years ago. While these laws resulted in dramatic improvements to our air and water the legislation does not consider the rights of ecosystems to flourish and thrive. Rather, these laws regulate how much pollution can occur and establish a right to pollute.  Rights of Nature starts with a different premise: ecosystems have existential rights.

Where have laws recognizing the Rights of Nature been adopted?

Rights of Nature laws have been adopted around the globe.  In the United States, the first Rights of Nature were adopted in Pennsylvania and are now established in dozens of communities across the country.

What types of restoration are already being done for the St. Louis River Estuary and how will this be different?

Much of the restoration work being done for the St. Louis River Estuary involves the remediation of historic pollution. This includes removing toxic sediments and placing them in special landfills or capping them with impervious clay on the river bottom so that the toxics do not enter the ecosystem. The Rights of Nature is forward looking, and would provide the River with the legal rights to defend itself against any future harm. If the Rights of Nature had been in place 150 years ago it is likely that we would not need to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clean it up. 

Don’t current environmental laws protect the Estuary and allow it to thrive?

No. Current environmental laws simply regulate how much pollution is allowed but does not consider the ability of the Estuary to thrive. In addition, there are many pollutants that remain unregulated. Just two examples that have made the news include the microplastics that have been found in the fish of the St. Louis Estuary and, the “forever chemical” PFAS that has been found in fish, which has resulted in the first ever human fish consumption advisory for smelt. These impact the ability of the Estuary to thrive and flourish.

If passed, would the initiative affect the economy of the Twin Ports?

The health of our commerce depends, in large part, on the health of our natural environment. These protections have the potential to boost our economy, create jobs that build upon a clean river, and increase our tax base.  See this report on water driving job creation and economic growth.

Is this initiative coming from outside entities that do not reside in the Twin Ports?

No. This initiative was proposed and organized by local citizens inspired by Rights of Nature initiatives around the country and world. 

How can nature go to court?

It is similar to how a corporation goes to court. A corporation is not a person but has representatives to represent its interests.  With Rights of Nature people within a community could “step into the shoes” of a mountain, stream, or forest ecosystem, and advocate for the rights of those natural communities. 

What is the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth?

In April 2010, Bolivia hosted the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. At the conference, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund assisted in drafting the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Modeled on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration has been forwarded to the United Nations for consideration by the U.N. General Assembly. On April 20, 2011, the General Assembly hosted an interactive dialogue entitled “Ways to Promote a Holistic Approach to Sustainable Development in Harmony with Nature.” The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature was presented during the session.

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Map of Rights of Nature and Earth Law Around the World

by Addison Luck for the Earth Law Center

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