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Environmental Rights for All New Yorkers

This fall, New Yorkers have a historic opportunity to vote and add the right to clean air, water and a healthful environment to our State Constitution.

Millions of New Yorkers live in areas where chemicals and contaminants threaten water supplies, air pollution results in 6,000 premature deaths in our state each year and communities and critical wildlife habitats are threatened by development. Toxic chemicals in our water are making people sick, while air pollution triggers asthma and heart attacks, causes lung cancer, and leads to premature deaths. All of these impacts are disproportionately occurring in communities of color.

What is the Environmental Rights amendment?

The amendment is a simple 15-word addition to the Bill of Rights of the New York State Constitution, stating, “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

The current New York Bill of Rights contains many of our most sacred civil liberties but nowhere is there a right to a clean and healthful environment. The inclusion of Environmental Rights would provide the same fundamental protections that are currently provided to our rights to free speech, freedom of religion, due process, and property. Establishing constitutional  environmental rights for all New Yorkers ensures a strong legal foundation exists to sustain healthy lives and economies for current and future generations.

What impact would an Environmental Rights amendment have?

Environmental Rights are a value statement that declares every New Yorker — regardless of the color of their skin, zip code, or how much money they have — has the right to clean air and clean water and a healthful environment. It puts these rights in front of every decision the government makes. For example, before a legislative body passes a law, a government agency issues a permit, or provides a grant, it will have to consider if doing so would violate a person’s right to clean air or water. Decision-makers would be obligated to minimize pollution, degradation, and environmental harms. And if they fail to protect these environmental rights, this amendment could be used by the community, government, and business interests to protect themselves. In  states where environmental rights are in place, the public benefits from enhanced legal standing in enforcement of environmental laws and consideration of public trust values.

What is the process for enacting Environmental Rights?

As constitutionally required, the Environmental Rights amendment legislation passed the New York Legislature in 2019 (first passage) and again in 2021 (second passage). Now, it is up to the voters to decide on November 2nd whether to add these rights to the State Constitution. The measure will appear as a question on the 2021 general election ballot.

Will New Yorkers support this measure?

Yes. The bill sending the measure to the voters enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the State Legislature. Siena polling has found that 92 percent of New Yorkers are concerned about water pollution and 90 percent with air pollution and another recent Siena poll of likely 2021 voters found support for this ballot measure at 80 percent.

What will the language on the ballot be?

This is the language that will appear on the ballot:

The proposed amendment to Article I of the New York Constitution would establish the right of each person to clean air and water and a healthful environment. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?

How can I get involved?

Please visit the Vote Yes for Clean Air and Water campaign website at ourairourwaterny.com to learn more about the campaign, our partners, and how to get involved! You can also email us at info@ourairourwaterny.org.

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