As the planet faces the growing threat of climate change, environmental advocates are searching for alternative legal avenues to protect natural entities in the courts. In 2017, the Colorado River Ecosystem brought a lawsuit against the State of Colorado for violating its constitutional rights. The advocates behind this action were seeking to establish in federal court two doctrines that have made strides in other countries as part of the international Rights of Nature movement: environmental personhood and standing for nature. Environmental personhood would recognize natural entities as legal persons, endowing them with corresponding rights and duties under the law. Standing for nature would allow such entities to litigate their grievances on their own behalf in court. If courts were to recognize these doctrines, advocates would gain a significant tool to protect natural entities from ecological catastrophe. However, as an analytical reading of the pleadings in the Colorado River case illustrates, litigants must draft robust complaints that specifically address the standing requirements in order to make progress on this front.
In Part I, this Note examines corporate personhood as a possible analogy for the development of environmental personhood. Part II discusses Article III standing as background for the justiciability standard environmental litigants must meet and analyzes animal standing as another comparative path. In Part III, the Note turns to the Colorado River lawsuit, critiques its pleadings, and suggests that a stronger litigation strategy would have increased the likelihood of surviving a justiciability challenge. Part IV recounts the international successes of the Rights of Nature movement to provide a global context for the Colorado River case. In Part V, the Note explores the issues around representation of natural entities in court and how some of these challenges might be navigated. Finally, this Note provides a few concluding thoughts on the path forward for environmental personhood and standing for nature.
Matthew Miller, Environmental Personhood and Standing for Nature: Examining the Colorado River case, 17 U.N.H. L. Rev. 355 (2019).