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Opinion: Proposed Environmental Constitutional Amendment Wrong For New York

by Jeff Williams

NYFB Director of Public Policy 

 

This November, New Yorkers will vote on a proposed environmental rights amendment to the New York State Constitution. The proposed “Green Amendment” passed both houses of the state legislature in consecutive two-year sessions, fulfilling the New York Constitutional amendment process requirement.

The proposed constitutional amendment adds “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment” to New York State’s Constitution’s Article I, Bill of Rights.

New York Farm Bureau has strong concerns about the proposed constitutional amendment.  Obviously, farmers deeply care about the environment and make their living by relying on nature.  However, New Yorkers already have numerous environmental protections under the state and federal law.

Adding this vague language to the constitution, without any corresponding clarifying legislation, will only bring uncertainty and will hardly increase environmental protections. In most cases, the judicial system would have to determine if a party had infringed upon an individuals’ right to a healthful environment and what constitutes a healthful environment. There are already laws in place that impose criminal penalties on parties that harm the environment enforced by the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

This constitutional amendment opens the door wide open to citizen-levied suits that may or may not have merit.  If a suit has merit, a simple call to the Department of Environmental Conservation would solve the problem. If not, then a farmer would then have to “lawyer up” to defend themselves against unfounded claims. 

Farmers already work with their neighbors to explain how their farm operation works, from spreading manure on fields to spraying crop protectants to combat pests. These activities are already regulated by environmental agencies. If this amendment passes, any neighbor could potentially levy a law suit against farmer claiming that these practices prevent them accessing a healthful environment and the farmer would have to defend themselves.

The constitutional amendment is well-intentioned, as everyone wants clean air and water.  However, this amendment only mucks up the current regulatory system, which already works, and would ultimately have a negative impact on a process that already enforces environmental protections.