Boon or Bane? New York’s Environmental Rights Amendment
November 08, 2021
Last week’s election had news outlets across the State and nation talking about Long Island’s rare “red wave”. While many are now debating what the apparent sea change means for Long Islanders, at least for the next few years, equal attention should also be paid to another important and far-reaching election result of a different color: New York’s “Green Amendment”.
Appearing as Proposal 2 on the back of the 2021 election ballot, the Environmental Rights Amendment (aka the “Green Amendment”) cleared its last procedural hurdle on Tuesday to become one of New York’s newest constitutional amendments. Adding Section 19 to the State Bill of Rights (Const., Art. I), the Amendment reads:
“Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”
By these 15 words, access to clean air, clean water and a healthful environment has become a State civil right on the same level as the cornerstone rights of freedom of worship and speech.
While the humanitarian intent of the Amendment is apparent on its face, there is ongoing debate regarding the law’s full import. The Amendment’s supporters view it is an important tool for protecting public health and preserving the environment for future generations. Other proponents have made the case for using the Amendment as a legal mechanism to combat and actively reverse longstanding environmental injustices. Others still see opportunity in the possible infrastructure projects spurred by future enforcement of the Amendment throughout the State.
On the other side, opponents of the Amendment have argued that its language is dangerously vague and that the law will be prone to abuse through litigation and judgments funded by taxpayer dollars.
Whether you are for or against the Green Amendment, it is now the law of the State, and its effects are sure to be felt long after the next election cycle.