Robinson Township is a small, 15,000-person community located west from Pittsburgh. It sits atop one the largest deposits of shalegas in the United States. 2012 was the year of the state assemblyAct 13 passed, which made it easier to extract natural gas from fossil fuels. It also limited the ability of local governments determine where drilling could occur.
MayaK.van Rossum, CEO ofDelaware RiverkeeperNetworkHe was alarmed. By virtue of this law, you could have an operating drilling-and-fracking well pad in the heart of a residential community, located as close as 300 feet from people’s homes, she says. Robinson Township was determined to make a difference and petitioned the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the repeal of the zoning law as well as other provisions of Act 13. We were joined by seven municipalities, whose authority had been removed.
To support their argument, the coalition turned to an outdated provision in the commonwealths Constitution. Pennsylvania voters approved an amendment in 1971 that provided an explicit right for clean air and purified water. Not only were sections ofAct 13 a baddeal, argued Robinson Township, but they wereunconstitutional.
This argument was convincing to four of seven judges of theCommonwealth court, who ruled that Act 13’s provisions violated plaintiffs constitutional rights. Van Rossum states that it was a powerful achievement. It was a success we wouldn’t have been able achieve in any other way.
She was inspired by her victory to create a movement to incorporate green amendments to every state constitution. Soon after, she joined forces with environmental groups in New York State who were also working towards this goal. Their efforts were supported by the AFL-CIO state chapter, the League of Women Voters and the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance as well as conservation organizations throughout the state.
Proposal 2, which established a right for everyone to live in a healthy environment, was approved by New York voters on November 2. More than two-thirds (or 68.9%) of New Yorkers agreed to add a line to the state constitution, which reads: Every person shall have a legal right to clean air, water, and a healthy environment.
New York becomes the sixth US state with the passage of the measuresto enshrine in law the right to a clean environmentOther than Pennsylvania, the other states are Montana, Illinois and Massachusetts. It is unclear how the amendment will affect environmental protection in New York. Advocates say that the success of the ballot measures is an important step towards protecting New York’s communities from pollution.
Peter Iwanowicz is the executive director of Environmental Groups. He says that the concepts in the new Constitution Amendment have been circulated among environmental groups for decades.Environmental Advocates NY. New Yorkers have the right, under the states Bill of Rights to workers compensation, freedom of belief, and even the right bets on horse races and bingo. Iwanowicz explains that it only makes sense that they should have the right to breath clean air and drink clean waters. New York State law said that such a right was not possible.
Iwanowicz and others were the first advocates to work with legislators in Albany to introduce a 2017 bill to establish a right for everyone to live in a healthy environment. It was quickly passed by the state assembly. It passed quickly through the state assembly. However, the Republican senate leadership refused it to be picked up, Iwanowicz claims. They knew full well that if they brought it up for a vote, it would pass and receive bipartisan support.
Proposal 2 was approved by New York voters on November 2. It is a ballot measure that establishes a right to a healthy and safe environment.
Advocates persevered and were able to pass legislation in 2019 & 2021 to bring the issue to New York’s attention. (New York lawA proposed constitutional amendment must pass the legislature in at least two concurrent sessions before it can be put to referendum. The measure received overwhelming support, passing the assembly 124-25 and the senator 48-14. But opposition continued to persist. Opponents claimed that the proposed constitutional amendment was too vague, and would lead to unnecessary legal battles. I support clean air and clean drinking water. Who isn’t? Daniel G. Stec, a Republican senator,According to theAdirondack Daily EnterpriseJanuary. However, in the face of uncertainty, you will distrust, you’ll have lawsuits, and you’ll have costs. I want to avoid that.
Law professors and supporters of the amendments spoke.SierraIn declarations of universal rights, this expansive and aspirational language is common. Iwanowicz explains that courts are still deciding the limits and nuances regarding the right of free speech. New York’s constitutional amendment will be similarly tailored to each case.
According to Michael Gerrard, a Columbia University professor of law, the courts will decide what the amendment means. It is possible that the New York courts will find it to be very strong, weak, or somewhere in between. We don’t yet know. Gerrard says that details will be worked out over the coming years as lawyers invoke text in their arguments, and judges decide how it can best be used.
Pennsylvania is a good example of how this could play out. Lawyers put Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment to the ultimate test shortly after it became part of the commonwealths Constitution. It was almost immediately accepted by the courts. The courts also took out a lot of the punch, according to Grant MacIntyre, University of Pittsburgh law professor. One 1973 case involved a private property owner who wanted to construct a viewing tower near Gettysburg National Cemetery. This was witnessed by an observer who wrote inThe New York Times,So calledThis is a new low in historical tastelessness. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania sued, claiming that the tower would violate Pennsylvania’s new environmental rights. The argument was rejected by the judge. A second case in the same year established a new legal test which effectively nullified the amendment.
The courts were nervous in the beginning cases. [the amendment]John Dernbach, a law professor at Widener University Chester, Pennsylvania, believes that economic development could be hampered. The amendment was largely ignored for many decades, while Dernbach and others tried to convince the courts to consider it seriously. Robinson Township was a turning point. Environmental lawyers have been steadily moving the jurisprudence case-by-case ever since.
Iwanowicz explains that New York’s green law was inspired by the water crisis at Hoosick Falls. In 2015, tests of the drinking water there showed high levels of PFOAa chemical associated with various health risks including cancerfrom a nearby plastic-manufacturing operation. Hoosick Falls residents settled with Honeywell, 3Mearlier and others this year.
Iwanowicz said that it’s difficult to see how an environmental amendment would have affected past poor decisions. We can still go to the government if someone proposes something the next time.
The consequences of the new constitutional Amendment may not always be clear. Columbia Law Schools Gerrard says that things could get complicated in cases where a development plan might have both positive or negative effects on the environment. Windmills are, for instance, a key component of government plans to reduce global warming emissions. However, windmills can also kill birds. Residents opposed to windmill construction might refer to the amendment in their arguments.
New York’s constitution already contains provisions for conservation. However, these provisions have made it the responsibility and obligation of the legislature to take appropriate action. Gerrard states that so far, courts have not required them to comply. New Yorkers have not been given the right to sue the legislature for failing to act by the courts. The new amendment, however, does not depend on the legislature. It seems to give power directly the people, he wrote via email.
As advocates in other states work to pass their own versions of environmental rights legislation they will likely face their own conflicts over the details of each bill. Van Rossum is working now to get green amends passed in New Jersey and Maine. Each case’s language is slightly different, which could influence how different states interpret the amendment.
Van Rossum says that getting the wording right is worth the effort. We all know that we as human beings have inalienable rights, such as clean water, and clean air. [But]If they aren’t legally enforceable, they don’t exist.