Environmental Bill of Rights

For the past two years, a bill that is incredibly important for the health of communities and the environment has been flying through the New York State Assembly but grinding to a dead stop in the Senate. The Environmental Bill of Rights is a concurrent resolution of the Senate and the Assembly proposing an amendment to the New York State Constitution. The legislation, which has been sponsored by Assembly member Englebright and Senator Carlucci makes clean water, air, and a healthful environment a protected right in the state’s Bill of Rights under Article I of the New York State Constitution.

This proposal establishes for New Yorkers the constitutional right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment equivalent to other basic rights guaranteed in Article I, including the right of freedom of worship and religious liberty, freedom of speech and the press, compensation for taking private property, equal protection of law, and security against unreasonable searches and seizures, among others. The basic human right to clean air and water and a healthful environment has been starkly absent from this list of constitutional protections, but recent threats to our water and air have reminded us that we cannot take for granted that these life-sustaining elements will be protected. It is critical that we recognize these rights and detail them in the Bill of Rights.

The great strength of this constitutional amendment is that it will provide greater assurance of sound decision-making and improve actions that would otherwise harm New York citizens and negatively affect air, water, and other aspects of our environment. We believe this amendment would support citizen suits to enforce existing state and federal laws enacted to protect our environment.

Recent water contamination in New York State at Hoosick Falls and ongoing concerns about air quality have highlighted the importance of clean drinking water and air as well as the need for additional protections. Thirty-five states or commonwealths, including Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Montana, have some form of “environmental rights” or expression of environmental values in their state constitutions, to ensure access to clean air and water. This proposed constitutional amendment would follow those models and ensure that clean air and water are treated as a fundamental right for New Yorkers. Click here to read ADK bill memos and comments (organized by year).

Ace and Acid Rain Update

Late last year almost eight hundred ADK members and supporters sent letters to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) telling the Trump Administration to clean up aging coal-fired power plants and reduce CO2 emissions. The letters were sent in response to the administration’s proposal to replace the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which called for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector of 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule which would basically make the current situation worse by allowing coal-fired power plants to increase the volume of their emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Many of you also donated to help fight this abomination of a plan that would drive the Earth closer to dangerous atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and cause sickness and death of thousands due to poor air quality and respiratory issues.

The next environmental and public health protection that the administration is sharpening the ax for is the Mercury Rule—the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for Power Plants. The revision plans would make it possible to dismantle the requirement to reduce mercury emissions. Mercury, a neurotoxin, causes damage to the nervous system in adults and neurological damage in infants. People become exposed through ingestion of contaminated fish, seafood, and wildlife.

For more updates from Albany and articles like this pick up  your January-February edition of the Adirondac available January 1. Members can view the magazine in their Members Area on the website. Non-members can purchase the magazine in our online shop.