New York Assembly passes ‘Environmental Bill of Rights’

New York State

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation approved campground on near Cat Mountain in the Adirondacks. (News 8 WROC Photo/Matt Driffill)

ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — On Monday, the New York State Assembly passed A.1368/S.528, a bill that adds the following phrase to Article 1 of the State Constitution:

Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.

Environmental Bill of Rights

This language is meant to enshrine individuals’ right to participate in a healthy, functioning natural ecosystem. Environmental advocates consider it an important step in building a case against polluters who would encroach on such rights. A.1368/S.528 is referred to as a “Green Amendment,” part of an “Environmental Bill of Rights.”

The bill is sponsored by Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright and Senator Robert Jackson. Englebright, who chairs the Environmental Conservation Committee, said, “All New Yorkers should have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a healthy environment to live and work in. As the pandemic has vividly shown, our economy and our health are strongly linked.”

New York’s Senate passed the bill in January, and it also previously passed both the Senate and Assembly in 2019. Now, it’s primed to be placed on general election ballots come November. If voted in, the bill would make New York only the third state—after Pennsylvania and Montana—to categorize environmental rights alongside political and civil liberties like freedom of speech and worship.

“The second passage of this historic bill which sets up a critical amendment to our state constitution should be celebrated and commemorated by communities, advocates, and attorneys who have been working for environmental justice for decades,” said Melissa Iachán, senior supervising counsel at the Environmental Justice Program of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “Importantly, this gives lawyers fighting environmental racism an important new tool in our toolbox in supporting disadvantaged communities as they fight for justice. Our hope is that, by arming the people of New York state with this explicit right, all levels of government and other decisionmakers in the state will proactively take a more holistic and preventative approach when making decisions that impact overburdened communities of color.”

Iachán’s was among over 70 environmental organizations that recently sent the letter below to the Legislature in support of the measure:

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