Campaign pushes for "constitutional right to clean water"

Jan 3, 2017

Environmental advocates are prodding state officials to take steps that would give New York residents the “constitutional right" to clean water and healthy air.

A new campaign has been launched that aims to strengthen legal protections against environmental hazards. Two groups are leading a fight for a state constitutional amendment to ensure that decision-makers proactively protect the environment and “respond with full force when a crisis occurs.”

The awareness blitz includes online videos that showcase two children from Hoosick Falls, a village

Hoosick Falls has made headlines for its drinking water woes.
Credit EDnvironmental Advocates of New York

northeast of Albany that made national headlines after disclosures that its drinking water was contaminated with PFOA.

Travis Proulx, communications director of Environmental Advocates of New York, said the Hoosick Falls saga and environmental problems in other regions signal the need for passage of what amounts to an “Environmental Bill of Rights.”

“New Yorkers are often surprised to learn that they don’t have a right to  clean water, to healthy air, to climate action,” Proulx told WBFO. “Over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of crises pop up in communities statewide.”

Environmental Advocates of New York is working with EffectiveNY, an organization that describes itself as a “good government group.”

People already have the ability to launch lawsuits that challenge environmental regulations, laws and incidents. However, Proulx is convinced a constitutional amendment would provide added protections.

"It’s a huge legal difference. New Yorkers right now have the right to try to stop something that’s already in motion. What they lack is if they uncover that the drinking water coming out of their tap is literally making them sick, there’s nothing right now they can do to force the government to help fix it.”

A constitutional amendment would require state lawmakers to approve the measure in two back-to-back sessions. Voters would also have to approve the amendment before it becomes law. Proulx said people who understand the implications of the measure are enthusiastically backing it.

“This is a groundswell of support from people on the ground in these communities who found that they lacked the tools in the toolbox needed to force government to do the right thing,” he said.

An online petition has been created at NYCleanWater.org that urges people to express support for the initiative.

Advocates are encouraging Governor Cuomo to include the constitutional amendment on his list of priorities in the new year.