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Advocates want CT to join New York to ratify 'Green Amendment'

Long WHarf, New Haven
Molly Ingram
Two people fish at Long Wharf, New Haven. A Constitutional amendment aims to protect CT residents' environmental rights — like the right to clean water and air.

Connecticut lawmakers and climate activists want to amend the state’s constitution to give residents the right to a healthy environment.

A “Green Amendment” would recognize clean water and air as a right — the same way Connecticut residents have the right to free speech and religion. The resolution is currently in the Government Administrations and Elections committee.

It would allow residents to bring lawsuits against the state if their environmental rights were jeopardized.

Nine-year-old Nora Romeo from Fairfield wants the amendment to pass. She told lawmakers her generation will suffer without a healthy environment.

“We collect trash on the beach more often than we find seashells,” Romeo said. “We notice how few butterflies and other pollinators are around because they are endangered of being killed off by pesticides. We have only seen koalas and other animals in books because more and more wildlife is becoming extinct.”

New York is one of three states to have already amended its constitution to include the right to a healthy environment.

Maya van Rossum, who founded the national nonprofit Green Amendments for the Generations, said the amendment is currently being used in New York to address air quality issues.

“The Department of Environmental Conservation has failed to hold industry accountable to reduce their pollution inputs to a degree that it would not harm the health of nearby environmental justice communities because of the release of things like crystalline silica, a very, very dangerous air contaminant,” van Rossum said.

According to van Rossum, the three states that have the amendment see it cited in less than 10 lawsuits a year.

“Zero frivolous lawsuits have been brought using green amendment language,” van Rossum said. “In the three states where they exist, the number of really meaningful lawsuits that have been brought are all about serious issues of significant concern. Win or lose, the litigation has been about important issues.”

Republican leadership isn't happy with the proposal.

“In a time when the world is focused on the embarrassing Bridgeport ballot-stuffing viral video, this is the focus of leading Democrats on Connecticut’s elections committee? What about election integrity measures that will prevent future voter fraud fiascos in Bridgeport? Where are they? Instead, we get posturing, lip service, and this unnecessary and burdensome proposal," said Senate Republican Leader Stephen Harding and Sen. Rob Sampson, Ranking Senator on the Labor and Public Employees Committee.

"It speaks volumes on their priorities. Under Democrat one-party rule, the voter fraud and ballot stuffing will continue. Impactful election integrity reforms which get to the root of the problem will not happen as long as Democrats are in power.”

A constitutional amendment requires approval from 75% of the legislature. Connecticut residents will vote on the measure in November 2024 if it passes.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.