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Coalition calls for ‘Green Amendment’ language to be added to state constitution

ALBANY — A coalition of nearly 100 environmental groups is calling for 15 words to be added to the state constitution that would enshrine the right to clean air and water.

A pair of bills in the state senate and assembly would call for the state constitution’s Article 1 to be amended to read “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” The amendment has been proposed before in the assembly, but this is the first year it’s been introduced in the senate.

State Senator David Carlucci (D-38), said in an email that a newly elected Democrat majority should help propel the bills, which are in response to actions the Trump administration has taken at the federal level.

“Our state’s constitution must be brought into the 21st century and guarantee every New Yorker the basic and fundamental rights to clean air, water and a healthful environment,” Carlucci, who is sponsoring the bill in the senate, wrote. “Our state’s constitution has protections to worship, assemble and even play bingo. It’s time environmental protections be there too for our residents.

“These rights are extremely important, as we see the federal government rollback environmental protections that help protect us against climate change and global warming. The President has pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, and funding for the Environmental Protection Agency has been proposed to be cut by 31 percent. It’s time to protect New Yorkers and encourage green decision making.”

In order for the amendment to be added the constitution, the amendment would first have to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then be approved by voters in a state-wide vote.

“Forty-three states have some form of expression of environmental values in their Constitutions; but only Montana and Pennsylvania have recognized protecting environmental rights as an inalienable right, putting environmental rights on par with other political and civil liberties,” Environmental Advocates of New York wrote in a press release. “In a 2016 report, the New York State Bar Association noted that ‘several other states, such as Pennsylvania, and 174 nations, have adopted and implemented constitutional ‘environmental rights,” adding that Article 14 of the New York State Constitution, the Forever Wild clause, does not include such protections.”

A letter in support of the bills – A2064 and S2072 — was sent by a wide range of environmental groups, including Protect the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Mountain Club.

“Every aspect of our lives from our health, to our property values, to the quality of our lives and recreation are impacted by the health of our environment; as such, protecting our environmental rights is fundamentally important,” the letter says. “It is our firm belief that amending the Bill of Rights to recognize our right to clean water, clean air, and a healthy environment will drive better government decision-making at all levels of government and will 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.”

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