Bainbridge council considers ‘Bill of Rights’ for nature, ecosystems

The Bainbridge Island City Council will get another look at a proposed “Bill of Rights” for nature at its meeting this week.

Councilman Ron Peltier and Councilwoman Rasham Nassar are the proponents of a new ordinance that would establish “rights of nature for the natural communities and ecosystems of Bainbridge Island and Puget Sound.”

The ordinance claims existing federal and state laws — including the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act — have not adequately provided “long-term protection of our rights to clean air, water, soil, sustainable food systems, and the rights of natural ecosystems to exist and flourish.” It also notes that corporations and governments have used the natural world “for their own, private, short-term economic benefit, generally with minimal regard for the health of the environment.”

The ordinance would allow the city — or any Bainbridge resident — to enforce the law in court against “any government or business entity with annual revenue greater than $250,000 that willfully violates” the ordinance, and also includes a civil penalty of $10,000 per day for violations.

“With the exponential growth in human population and its increasing per capital resource consumption, the planet cannot sustain our current way of life, which is destructive to the natural elements upon which all species depend — the air, water, climate, soil and other fundamental elements of the world,” the ordinance states.

The ordinance will also require city staff prepare an annual report “on the state of the environment in and around Bainbridge Island.”

The staff report will include a sub-report from the city’s Climate Change Advisory Committee “on the state of the Earth’s atmosphere, climate change, and Bainbridge Island’s progress in doing its part to not only reduce its greenhouse gas emissions but to also show leadership in addressing climate change.”

The city council was briefed on the proposal at a study session in October.

The Bainbridge council is expected to decide at its meeting Tuesday if it wants to adopt the “Rights of Nature” ordinance.

City staff has told the council that it will require “extensive staff review of the proposed language” by all city departments, “including in-depth legal review by the city attorney’s office.”

The council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3 at city hall.

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