State Attorney General Urges Court To Dismiss Colorado River “Personhood” Lawsuit
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s office filed a motion last week to dismiss a lawsuit against the state brought by environmental groups aimed at granting “personhood” to the Colorado River.
The state of Colorado told the U.S. District Court that those acting on behalf of the plaintiff—the Colorado River itself—do not have jurisdiction under the 11th Amendment, lack standing due to a lack of specific injury, and have not stated a claim “upon which relief can be granted,” according to the filing.
“The Complaint alleges hypothetical future injuries that are neither fairly traceable to actions of the State of Colorado, nor redressable by a declaration that the ecosystem is a “person” capable of possessing rights,” the motion said. Besides a lack of standing, “[T]he Complaint fails to demonstrate jurisdiction under any other federal statute,” and “presents a non-justiciable issue of public policy. Whether the ecosystem should have the same rights as people, and who should be allowed to assert those rights in federal courts, are matters reserved to Congress by the Constitution,” the state argued in its motion.
“Because no environmental statute or other law authorizes the ecosystem to bring a suit on its own behalf, the Complaint should be dismissed,” the state told the court.
A coalition led by anti-fossil fuel group Deep Green Resistance, Jason Flores-Williams, a Denver-based lawyer, and Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund as legal advisers, filed the suit in late September.
In seeking “rights, including the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate, and restoration” for the Colorado River, Deep Green Resistance, Flores-Williams, and CELDF hope to gain “personhood” status for the river and associated ecosystem that provides a watershed for seven states from Colorado to California and eventually into the Gulf of California.
Colorado rejected that argument, telling the court, “there is no hint that ‘person’ includes inanimate objects, like the soil, water, and plants that, together with animals, create an ecosystem.”
Flores-Williams told KUNC that the Colorado is a “part of you” if you’re from the Rocky Mountain West. “Literally. You drink it,” Flores-Williams said.
“Something should be done, and nothing can be done under our current legal regime,” he said.
“The river would thenceforth have the ability to have that injury recognized and have the standing to bring that injury into court,” said Flores-Williams, explaining the reasoning behind the lawsuit on the river’s behalf.
Deep Green Resistance, however, has previously called for “sabotage and asymmetric action” in order to “dismantle the critical physical infrastructure required for industrial civilization.”
“Life on Earth is more important than this insane, temporary culture based on hyper-exploitation of finite resources. This culture needs to be destroyed before it consumes all life on this planet,” the group writes.
Despite its current lawsuit participation, Deep Green Resistance details what it calls the “Four Phases of Decisive Ecological Warfare,” claiming the group of activists is “weary from never-ending legal battles and blockades.” In the group’s analysis, during Phase 4 ending industrial civilization will include the elimination of oil pipelines and electricity generation, along with wireless internet.
“The plaintiff’s professed goal is unraveling our very civilization–ironically by seeking human rights for an inanimate object,” Ken Holsinger, a Denver-based attorney specializing in land and water law, told Western Wire in September.
“To have an individual environmental group come in and say they’re representing the river seems highly problematic to me,” Mark Squillace, a natural resources law professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, told KUNC.
“And I have no confidence whatsoever that these people necessarily represent the best interest of the Colorado River,” Squillace said.
Squillace disagreed with the assertions made by Deep Green Resistance that the anti-civilization group should become the guardian of the river, adding that the current lawsuit “seems like an abuse of the judicial system.”
“Water is unquestionably precious and water law in the West developed with that firm understanding. Contrary to the goal of these radical litigants, Western water laws promote the conservation, development and use of water for the comfort, welfare and safety of its peoples,” said Holsinger.
The goal of the various covenants and water laws that have developed over the past century, Holsinger said, is a “balance” between human usage and natural conservation efforts.
“Along the way, our laws have brilliantly evolved to balance human uses with recreational and environmental purposes, and include complex interstate and international agreements that govern the allocation of the Colorado River,” Holsinger said, rejecting the claim that radical environmental groups are in the best position to govern the river and its riparian ecosystem across states as far-flung as Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, serving millions of residents in cities from Denver, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, to Phoenix.
In a house editorial earlier this month, the Las Vegas Review-Journal called the lawsuit “legal mumbo-jumbo,” and asked, “why are we to assume that if the Colorado River could assert its feelings it would embrace the far-left agenda of those who now claim to speak for it?”
“While Mr. Flores-Williams and Deep Green Resistance deserve an A for creativity, any federal judge who allows nonsense like this to move forward deserves to be impeached. Taking this to its logical conclusion, why not allow rocks or soil to sue the humans who dare tread upon them? Would any effort by humankind to harvest nature’s bounty be safe from this type of legal mumbo-jumbo?” the editors wrote.
“This lawsuit is absurd and does a disservice to common sense. The judge should not only throw it out of court, but levy costs against this ridiculous band of litigants. For all we know, the river would want it that way,” the Review-Journal concluded.
The next deadline in the case is November 14, a status conference.