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Campaign to Put Environmental Health Rights into NYS Constitution Begins, Pushing November Ballot Measure

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Chris Bolt/WAER News
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A ballot proposition on November's election would put language into the New York State constitution that would mandate a right to clean water, clean air, and a healthful environment, guarantees that don't now exist in the state's constitution.

A coalition of environmental, recreation and civic groups is launching a push to change New York’s constitution, so it guarantees a clean and health environment. WAER Environment Reporter Chris Bolt reports on what the change might mean for clear air and clean water.

Should New York’s state constitution include guarantees for every resident clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment? That’s exactly the language a wide range of groups is trying to get into our bill of rights, if you will. Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz says he gets asked all the time why this isn’t already a right.

“We shouldn’t have to breathe air that will make us sick or kill us or drink water that will do the same. And our answer to those people in the communities has always been, ‘well, as humans, and morally, that’s a clear yes.’ But when you look at New York State law, the answer was, ‘well, not yet.’”

The ballot measure if it passes, would simply change a part of the constitution by adding 15 words: “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” That’s it.

League of Women Voters Deputy Director Jennifer Wilson says the small change can have large impacts when pollution leads to health risks.

“The League is very proud to be supporting this amendment, which will not only protect New York State’s environment from harmful legislative policies and business practices, but also give organizations like the League, an outlet to take bad actors to task and ensure bad environmental practices are eradicated.”

Advocates say there’s also an environmental justice aspect to it, providing a basis for protecting lower income and communities of color from the placement of polluting businesses and facilities.

“Communities across New York State are impacted by high levels of air pollution and water contamination that is damaging their health and wellness. And New Yorkers who can’t afford to move away from these areas, they’re suffering. And that pain is only going to grow if we do not guarantee business and elected officials have a mandate to protect the well-being of all New Yorkers.”

A bill that placed the measure on the ballot has passed the state assembly for years, but didn’t get through the state senate until it had a democratic majority. Assembly sponsor Steve Englebright says backing the measure in November gives voters a chance to contribute to the state’s positive future.

“So, as we go toward the November election this year, where I anticipate the voters will answer in a resounding ‘yes’, it’s important that we make sure they are aware of just how remarkable this moment is as a historic milestone in the environmental and civic health of all our citizens.”
Learn more about the movement and the ballot proposition here: OurairourwaterNY.org