Legal Stewards of the Land - MD HB 1053 and SB 824
The law is a most conservative body. For example, it will not let me sue you unless I can prove that what you are doing - or planning to do - directly threatens to harm me. In other words, I need standing, locus standi, in order to legally thwart your plans and stand in your way.
That sounds fair, when it comes to the things I want to wear or the religion I choose to believe in.
But what about when it comes to the earth? Can I sue to prevent you from clear-cutting your property even if I live dozens, or hundreds, of miles away? Can I prevent you from burying toxins on your land when I never go near there? Can I prevent you from building in sensitive areas that can destroy fragile ecosystems that I do not own and might never see?
The question boils down to: who owns the earth and its precious resources like land, air, water and who has the right to protect it?
On the one hand, the earth belongs to all of us. What you do there affects me here, and what I do here affects you there. On the other hand, if we all could sue everyone over every act of development, the courts, and our neighborhoods, would be locked in interminable battles. (Though the lawyers among us might be happy.)
There are currently 44 states in the United States that have found a way around this conundrum. They allow certain individuals and organizations to have standing in the state courts to fight against violations of our environmental laws. Maryland is not yet among them. There is, however, a way now to remedy that:
Senate Bill 824 and House Bill 1053: Community Environmental Protection Act of 2009
These bills are currently in their respective Environmental Matters Committees. If passed by both chambers, these bills will allow certain individuals and organizations to be designated as having legal standing to sue in Maryland courts on behalf of the earth, and you and me.
If indeed we believe what we teach, that humans have the obligation to tend well to the earth; and if we wish to act according to what we know, that all the earth is connected and what we do in one place affects the health of people and the ecosystem hundreds even thousands of miles away, then we need these bills. We are the stewards of the earth, and we therefore need the legal standing to be its legal guardians.
This effort is also a Maryland League of Conservation Voters priority. As they say, "We urge Maryland to follow the current national trend and expand a citizen’s right to a day in court."
Please support these bills. Go to www.mdlcv.org to see how you can help.