This November, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to vote on the Environmental Rights Amendment as proposition 2 on this year’s ballot. The proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution states that “each person shall have the right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” The first-ever environmental rights amendment was adopted by Pennsylvania in 1971, which established the state’s constitutional right to clean air and clean water. Now, New Yorkers have the opportunity to guarantee that same rights for themselves.
If passed by voters, this amendment will help keep our environment and our people healthy, and as a result lower healthcare costs for families, businesses, and the State. This will allow New York’s economy to thrive with a strong, safe workforce. The addition of this amendment will also play an important role in future legislation that is passed. If it becomes a constitutional right for all New Yorkers to have clean air and water, the State government will have to take into consideration environmental impacts and their implications for these rights when making all decisions. This would have an effect on private entities in New York as well because adding this right to the constitution provides a strong legal foundation preventing damage to the environment.
From an environmental justice perspective, this amendment is a significant step in the right direction. Environmental justice is realized when all people can reach their highest potential, without interruption by environmental racism or inequity. This means that all people must have the same degree of protection from environmental health hazards. Introducing this amendment would ensure that all people, regardless of race, income, or location, will have New York State constitutional law behind them to protect their right to a healthful environment.
This June, a Siena Poll was showed that 80% of registered voters support the passage of this green amendment. Moreover, organizations across New York have come out in support of its passage, organizing into the Vote Yes for Clean Air and Water coalition led by Environmental Advocates of New York. Members of the coalition include key environmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council, local groups such as the Long Island Progressive Coalition and Sustainable Saratoga, and environmental justice groups including the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. The amendment has also garnered the support of cross-sector organizations including Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the New York State American Academy of Pediatrics and the League of Women Voters of New York.
All registered voters in New York will be able to vote on ballot proposition 2 on November 2nd as part of the New York State General Elections, with early voting going from October 23rd-October 31st. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Monday, October 18th.
If this amendment passes, it will provide the same protections that we currently possess for our rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and due process, for our right to live in a healthful environment. Recognizing the right to clean air and water as an inalienable constitutional right for all New Yorkers will create the legal foundation necessary to provide current and future generations with sustainable, healthy lives.
by Katherine Netti