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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

This article in Adventure Journal says that some non-US countries are starting to grant the status of “personhood” to rivers and other natural resources – which can affect how people treat the river and even form the basis for tort-based legal actions. The article states:

Environmental personhood is a legal concept that endows different environmental entities with the same status as a person in court, and is being used by many groups to protect natural resources in the modern world.

Earlier this month, it happened in Minnesota. The White Earth Nation of Ojibwe has filed suit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in tribal court on behalf of wild rice. The tribe established a law in 2018 granting rights to manoomin (as the plant is called in the native language) as a living entity. The case does not claim economic damages or seek relief under endangered species protections as is more traditional in natural resource damages actions. If the tribe is successful in court, already permitted groundwater use for an Enbridge Energy pipeline construction project could be halted.

What This Means

It is too early to tell if this novel legal strategy will be validated in courts and/or spread. It seems a potentially dangerous slippery slope that could expand beyond its original intent and lead to dramatic unintended consequences, especially in the United States. At the same time, it might be prudent for companies to monitor these developments and possibly begin thinking about how to respond if a similar suit is brought against them.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile