State Senate passes ‘Environmental Bill of Rights’

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York State Senate passed an amendment to the state Constitution aimed at enshrining rights to clean air and fresh water. The amendment—S528—adds the following language to Article 1 of the Constitution:

“Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” 

Sen. Robert Jackson, the lead sponsor behind the measure, said, “This language will finally put in place safeguards that require the government to consider the environment and our relationship to the Earth in decision making. If the government fails in that responsibility, New Yorkers will finally have the right to take legal action for a clean environment because it will be in the State Constitution.”

This amendment should push leaders and administrators to more seriously weigh ecological considerations and the public good. According to the nonprofit group Environmental Advocates NY, the amendment also represents a weapon against racism and wealth inequality. Data routinely shows how the harm from practices like pollution disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color.

The same measure previously passed both houses of the state legislature in 2019. Now, it must pass both the Assembly before being voted on by the general public in November. In the past, the diverse advocacy groups—like the AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters, and Citizen Action of New York—have thrown their support behind the Environmental Bill of Rights.

In 2019, a diverse coalition signed a letter saying that amending the amendment would “prevent situations or conditions in which water becomes too polluted, air too dirty, land too contaminated, and natural landscapes too decimated to support healthy lives, including a healthy economy.”

Though 43 states include environmental values in their constitutions, only Montana and Pennsylvania protect the environment as an inalienable right on par with other political and civil liberties. If ultimately enacted, the “Environmental Bill of Rights” would make New York the third state to enshrine such protections.

Peter M. Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates NY, said, “Every New Yorker—regardless of the color of their skin, where they live, or how much money they have—has the right to clean air and clean water. That this basic truth does not appear in our Constitution is an omission we correct this year.”

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