This bill establishes in the New York State Constitution a right to clean water, clean air and a healthful environment. It addresses a gap in our legal foundations, and provides an expression of values that other states have already seen fit to establish and to pronounce.
Thirty-five states or commonwealths have some form of “environmental rights” or expression of environmental values in their Constitutions; the State of Montana and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are recognized as leaders.
Most New Yorkers believe that they have a general right to water that is not going to make them sick, and to breathe air that won’t trigger health impacts like an asthma attack or lead to diseases like lung cancer and/or premature death. There is also a belief that there is a right for all to live, work and play in a protected environment. While at a human and moral level these things are true, New Yorkers are not afforded a legal right to clean water and air and a healthful environment. This bill changes that.
Establishing a civil environmental right will drive better government decision-making at all levels to prevent situations or conditions in which land becomes too contaminated, water becomes too polluted, and air too dirty. People and private enterprises would also likely make better decisions based on a value set that all New Yorkers have environmental rights.
This Bill of Rights provision complements the provisions of the Conservation Article, Article XIV of the New York State Constitution, which protect the State’s natural resources including its forest preserve and call for the management of those resources to secure clean air and water.
Furthermore, enshrining Environmental Rights sends a message to all that New York places a high priority on and a value to ensuring clean water, safe drinking water, air healthful to breathe (the original promise of the federal Clean Air Act made law more than 45 years ago), a safe climate, and a healthful natural environment. It will also help position the State to be recognized as a true national environmental leader that we aspire to.
This bill amends Article I of the New York State Constitution to add a new section to establish Environmental Rights. The new text would read: “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”