The New York State Assembly has passed a bill that would include environmental rights for residents into the state's constitution. The measure would make New York the third state to have such an amendment on the books.
The new amendment would read:
"Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment."
Article I of the state constitution, titled the Bill of Rights, provides freedom of worship, equal protection of laws and workers compensation, among other rights.
Democratic Assemblyman Steven Englebright of Setauket, who sponsored the proposed “Green Amendment,” said the bill would protect residents against government incompetence.
“The proposed constitutional amendment is an expression of optimism,” said Englebright, who is chair of the state environmental conservation committee.
A similar bill was passed by both the Senate and Assembly in 2019. In order to amend the state constitution, two successive legislatures have to approve the proposal. Then, the measure advances to a ballot referendum for voters in the November general election. If voters approve the ballot measure, it would be the first revision to the states constitution since 2018.
A coalition of 74 environmental organizations sent a letter of support for the amendment after the state Senate passed the bill in January.
“The right to clean water, air and a healthful environment should be as fundamental as a person’s right to free speech and assembly.” the coalition said. They said the right to divorce, engage in lotteries and gamble were in New York law as inalienable rights.
“New Yorkers deserve better,” the coalition continued.
The letter also highlighted how the Green Amendment would help support environmental justice and back communities of color and low-income communities who are impacted by hazardous pollution.
The amendment would help punish polluters and make way for more environmental initiatives — some of which have been in discussion since the 1960s, including stricter protection of drinking water and air quality standards.
Data shows air quality around U.S. cities had gotten better during early parts of the pandemic with less people commuting and using gas vehicles. However, the air quality has now returned to pre-pandemic numbers.