Constitutional Amendment; Right to Clean Air and Water (S.5287/A.6279)

Date: 2017

S.5287 Carlucci

A.6279 Englebright

MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION

Unshackle Upstate, a non-partisan, pro-taxpayer, pro-economic growth, education and advocacy coalition made up of business and trade organizations from Upstate New York opposes the enactment of this proposed constitutional amendment.

This measure proposes to amend the State Constitution's bill of rights to include “a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

Clean air and water are extremely important to New Yorkers, to our economy and to its growth. 

But the sponsors of this measure have not made it clear what this constitutional amendment is intended to accomplish, or what purpose it will serve.  Nor do they explain why the state Constitution’s Conservation Article, Article XIV, is inadequate in terms of protecting the state’s air and water resources.

We are particularly concerned about the lack of clarity of this proposal.  While this measure would create new fundamental rights to “clean air and water” and “healthful environment,” it does not define these key terms, nor does it provide any corresponding statutory language to implement this language.  It would, in other words, establish a “clean slate” that would likely be filled out by environmental activists bringing lawsuits that are designed to effectuate these newly established rights.

We are also concerned that this measure would likely lead to increased litigation, and could be used as a legal basis to challenge a range of common activities that some oppose because of their adverse impacts.

Advocates for this bill argue that this proposal was “inspired by communities in crisis” such as Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, and that it is intended to “ensure that other communities have the tools necessary to fight for basic rights when a crisis occurs.”

Again, it is not clear how this constitutional amendment will alter the state’s policy priorities, or its funding for environmental protection.  New York State spends billions of dollars annually to fund the activities of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), whose mission is to “conserve, improve, and protect New York's natural resources and environment; and to prevent, abate, and control water, land, and air pollution, in order to enhance the health, safety, and welfare of the people of the State, and their overall economic and social well-being.” 

The best way to protect the state’s air and water, and the public health, is for state legislators to enact clear and enforceable laws, and for the state to enforce them.  Adding a new vaguely worded constitutional protection is simply a recipe for unnecessary litigation.

For these reasons, Unshackle Upstate opposes the enactment of this proposed constitutional amendment.