New Yorkers Lead a New Wave of Environmental Rights

An overwhelming majority of New York residents voted for an amendment that would require the state to safeguard people's health and natural resources in future policies and projects across the state.

Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York

Getty Images

New Yorkers truly have something to celebrate this fall. On November 2, voters decided to protect communities and the environment by adding a section to the state constitution that reads: “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” Adding this language to the constitution was no small feat—the amendment had to pass two separate legislative sessions before it was put before voters. A strong coalition of environmental and community groups, along with legislative champions, helped make it happen.

This is a momentous occasion: The amendment will be a powerful tool for protecting communities throughout the state. This amendment is especially important to protect New Yorkers who live in low-income communities and communities of color, as these are the places that tend to have the highest levels of air pollution and water contamination. The amendment encourages a holistic approach to addressing environmental harms. 

Livingston Manor, NY

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

New York now joins Pennsylvania and Montana in being one of the few states to have an Environmental Rights or Green Amendment. Montana and Pennsylvania passed their amendments during the last green wave in the 1970s. Several other states have recently proposed Green Amendments, including Washington and Delaware. New Yorkers can be proud they are leading what will hopefully be the next wave of Green Amendments.  

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About the Authors

Corinne Bell

Program Attorney, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

Joan Leary Matthews

Senior Attorney and Director, Urban Water Management, Water Initiatives, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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