Ballot Proposition II was passed by a vote of over 60%. Due to climate change and the increasing destruction of our environment, this proposal was a no-brainer for New York law makers. The proposition essentially makes clean air and clean water a right in New York State. The proposal went into Section 19 of Article 1 of the New York Constitution, although it won’t take effect until January of 2022.
Pollution has been a huge issue in New York and all over America. Burning fossil fuels brings asthma, lung damage and wildfires into our communities. For example, the South Bronx has the highest rate of childhood asthma in the city because of its position between highways.
In recent years we’ve seen how water pollution can harm an environment. Flint Michigan is still having a water crisis. About 20,000 children have been exposed to dangerous amounts of lead and now it’s costing the city over $600 million for something that was preventable.
The exact wording of the proposal is “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and to a healthful environment.” But what exactly does that mean for New Yorkers?
Although the bill would not grant individual citizens the right to sue companies or corporations, the attorney general will have the power to sue polluters. The Bill of Rights does not create private entitlements for one citizen over the other, but it does permit government initiative over a citizen or polluter as a whole.
According to The Buffalo News, opponents believe the wording of Proposal II is too vague. What counts as “clean air” and a “healthful environment?” This is why Republicans have concerns about the freedom of private corporations. Some politicians feel that it would create unnecessary lawsuits over minor environmental problems. This potential issue was not a concern of Democrats because the purpose of the bill is to protect citizens individual rights and health, not to protect the corporations that created the need for this law in the first place.
To predict the impact of the new amendment. We can look at a similar law that was placed with Pennsylvania’s Bill of Rights in 1971.
Some of the wording is almost identical to New York’s amendment. “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”
From the Civil War all the way up to the late 20th century, Pennsylvania’s economy was known for its production of the railroad which required steel and coal. This exploited much of the state’s environment and released dangerous amounts of fossil fuels into the air. Section 27 of Article 1 also states that “Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come,” which is why anyone who is elected to the states’ public office has to uphold the environmental oath. Developers also have to plan their work to create minimal environmental impacts.
In New York, perhaps this amendment will force companies to be more careful and prevent further exploitation of our environment or maybe the law will force our government to hold these polluters accountable. Either way, our new law is one small step closer to a better environment.