New Yorkers—Vote Yes for Clean Air and Water!

Clean water and clean air are a basic human right. It’s surprising, then, that most state constitutions don’t recognize the right to a healthy environment. On November 2nd, New Yorkers can lead a new wave of state environmental rights amendments if they decide that the state should officially recognize everyone’s right to clean air and water. Voters will choose whether to add the following provision to the state constitution: 

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

Photo by Mary Taylor from Pexels

This beautifully simple language would create the highest level of legal protection for public health and the environment. The provision would be placed in the New York Constitution’s Bill of Rights, putting it on par with other fundamental rights like the right to free speech and freedom of religion.  

If passed, the amendment would protect all New Yorkers, from Buffalo to Long Island. People in low-income communities across New York currently live with toxic levels of air pollution and water contamination. The environmental rights amendment (or "green amendment") would help protect these communities by recognizing that every New Yorker has a right to clean air, water, and a healthful environment––no matter the color of their skin, how much money they have, or where they live.

Tiana Bay in Hampton Bays, NY

Joan Leary Matthews

We can’t take our clean water and air for granted, and this amendment is a critical tool to hold others accountable if they do. Groups have successfully used an environmental rights amendment in neighboring Pennsylvania to protect residents from air and water pollution there. Pennsylvania’s amendment was used by environmental groups to invalidate unconstitutional portions of an oil and gas law, including portions that preempted local authority. Advocates in Montana used that state’s environmental amendment to fight the dumping of arsenic-polluted water into the Blackfoot and Landers Fork rivers. New Yorkers deserve similar protection and should vote to pass the environmental rights amendment this fall.  

Voting for the amendment (Proposal 2) will create legal safeguards for New Yorkers to secure clean air and water now and for generations to come. If you’re interested in learning more or need help registering to vote (by October 8th!), head to ourairourwaterny.org. You can also follow the coalition of groups supporting the measure on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

A waterfall in Catskill, NY

Photo by Andrew S on Unsplash

This is an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for New Yorkers. The amendment before voters has already been down a long road through 2 legislative sessions (in 2019 and then again in 2021). The measure had broad bipartisan support, and now it’s time for voters to seal the deal!

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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