On February 14, 2023, a bill was introduced in the New York state legislature to create a Great Lakes Bill of Rights – which declares the Great Lakes ecosystem to possess the “rights to exist, persist, flourish, naturally evolve, regenerate, and be restored.” This includes all natural water features, communities of organisms, soil, and terrestrial and aquatic sub-ecosystems within the Great Lakes and their watersheds and connecting channels. The legislation also recognizes that people and the natural environment of the state of New York possess the right to a clean and healthy environment. The language was drafted with the assistance of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).
The Great Lakes Bill of Rights was previously introduced in 2021-2022 (legislation A3604), but did not make it past the committee stage. The 2023 legislation similarly did not make it out of committee. Assemblyman Patrick Burke intends to reintroduce the legislation in 2024.
The legislation was originally introduced in 2019 as the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. Recognizing that the health of the Great Lakes adjacent to New York state are inextricably linked to the entire Great Lakes ecosystem, the bill was amended to encompass Lake Erie and Lake Ontario within the jurisdiction of New York State, resulting in the current iteration – the Great Lakes Bill of Rights.