New York State enshrines “the right to a healthy environment” in its Constitution

Burn in marble “The right of everyone to benefit from clean air and water and a healthy environment”. New York State voters voted 60.8% of the vote to amend their Constitution in this direction, according to results released Wednesday, November 3. This “green amendment” is one of only two constitutional changes, out of five submitted to voters on Tuesday, to have been approved.

This local referendum, little publicized, was coupled with municipal elections. Barely 3 million people took part in the vote, out of 12 million registered. It is the last step in a long parliamentary process and had already been very largely ratified in 2019 and 2021 by the House of Representatives and the State Senate, dominated by the Democrats. Chance of the calendar, this vote occurred on the third day of the 26e United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) on the climate, which takes place until November 12 in Glasgow (Scotland), and as the President of the United States, Joe Biden, tries to assert his action on climate .

Citizens’ rights “strengthened”

New York State is one of the most populous in the United States, a contrasting territory that includes both the economic and cultural capital of the country and vast agricultural areas. It thus becomes the seventh state – out of 50 in the country – to rewrite its Constitution to include environmental rights. A slow movement started in the 1970s by Illinois and Pennsylvania. Montana, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Rhode Island followed. “This amendment strengthens the rights of citizens”, says Peter Iwanowicz, Managing Director of Environmental Advocates NY.

This non-profit organization has fought for years for this constitutional amendment, especially since the 2015 case of contaminated water in the village of Hoosick Falls, in the east of the state, made unsuitable for use. consumption due to the presence of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a toxic substance found in non-stick coatings on cookware as well as in the textile industry. “From now on, if your tap water has been contaminated with chemicals, the state executive can no longer stand idly by, since the right to clean water is explicitly mentioned in the law”, assure M. Iwanowicz.

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An argument that opponents of this constitutional reform – both business representatives and farmers – contest. Ken Pokalsky, vice-president of the Business Council of New York State, the largest local employers’ organization, considers this amendment ” useless “. “We already have fairly high environmental protection standards in law, both at state and federal level”, he believes. This is all the more problematic, according to him, as the wording of this amendment, which is in fifteen words, is ” very vague “ and introduced a “Enormous legal uncertainty”.

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New York State enshrines “the right to a healthy environment” in its Constitution