Suffolk Closeup: The right to a clean environment


Among the most important things that happened on Election Day last week for Suffolk County (and New York State) was passage of the Green Amendment.

That was Proposal Two on the ballot. “The proposed amendment to Article 1 of the New York State Constitution would establish the right of each person to clean air and water and a healthful environment,” it said.

In Suffolk, the “yes” votes constituted 60% of votes. It received a similar percentage statewide. Thus, after as required by the State Constitution — being passed twice by the State Assembly and the State Senate and approved in a statewide vote — the Green Amendment has become law in New York.

It makes “clean air and water and a healthful environment” Constitutional rights in the state, enabling litigation on Constitutional grounds if they are negatively impacted or threatened.

Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee and long involved in environmental issues in Suffolk, was the prime sponsor of the Green Amendment in the Assembly. He emphasized that when the state’s Constitution “was first written, the environment was not an issue. In our modern time, the environment is under siege.”

The key individual nationally for a Green Amendment in all state constitutions and ultimately in the U.S. Constitution is Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper for 27 years and author of the important 2017 book, “The Green Amendment, Securing Our Right to a Healthy Environment.”

Ms. van Rossum is thrilled with the passage of the Green Amendment in New York.

“This victory has been over five years in the making with New York being ground zero for the national Green Amendment movement,” she said from Pennsylvania following the vote. “The people of New York have made their voices heard at the ballot and secured this crucial amendment in the name of environmental justice, protection, and longevity.”

“With the passage of the New York Green Amendment, generations to come will know that they have an irrefutable right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment, that they can lean on whenever these inalienable human rights are threatened,” she added. “This victory will serve as a litmus test as we look to the future and head full force towards passing Green Amendments in remaining states, 13 of which are already moving forward with formal proposals.

“New York is on the cutting edge of the new national movement that seeks to secure highest Constitutional recognition and protection of environmental rights in every state and at the federal level. Communities and states across the nation who are part of the national Green Amendment movement have been watching New York closely. I am delighted that this success will provide them all the inspiration they need to seek and secure their own meaningful rights to a clean and healthy environment like New Yorkers now have.”

What’s to follow in New York with passage of the Green Amendment here? Ms. van Rossum said “training” is being planned with a title “something like ‘New York Has A Green Amendment — What Next?’”

“We will talk about how New Yorkers can and should be thinking about and starting to use this most powerful Constitutional tool,” she said. “All the details will be on the calendar page of NYGreenAmendment.org and/or folks can sign up to join Green Amendments For The Generations and learn about this event and other upcoming opportunities. You don’t have to pay to be a member. You can sign up at: forthegenerations.org/join-us/

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) whose district includes Shelter Island, was a leading sponsor of the Green Amendment saying that providing “a Constitutional right to clean air and clean water and a healthful environment … elevates environmental policy and initiatives.”

In the Senate the prime sponsor was Robert Jackson of Washington Heights. He commented that the Green Amendment in New York “will finally put in place safeguards to require the government to consider the environment and our relationship to the Earth in decision making. If the government fails in that responsibility, New Yorkers will finally have the right to take legal action for a clean environment because it will be in the State Constitution.”

Opponents complained that lawsuits under the Green Amendment would affect court calendars. But what issues are more important than clean air and water and a healthful environment — and lawsuits for what now will be our Constitutional rights?



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