“Environmental Justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.” — The Delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit17 Environmental Justice Principles, https://www.ejnet.org/ej/principles.pdf
While appearing on a National Green Amendment Day Panel focused on environmental justice, Dr. Sacoby Wilson spoke about the upcoming 20th anniversary of the development of the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice by The Delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. Dr. Wilson stated that the Green Amendment movement, which seeks to protect our fundamental right to a healthful environment, is an opportunity to codify some of these environmental justice principles into law. You can watch a recording of the Green Amendment Day Environmental Justice Panel here.
Currently 13 states are pursuing amending their state constitution’s Bill of Rights section to protect the right to a healthful environment, including Maryland. Pennsylvania and Montana already have these constitutional protections in their state Bill of Rights, and New York voters will have the chance to vote yes for constitutional protection of their right to a healthful environment in November.
How would the Environmental Human Rights Amendment in Maryland legally protect environmental justice principles?
The Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights (MDEHR) advocates for passing the Environmental Human Rights Amendment to protect the fundamental right to a healthful environment for every Marylander. A healthful environment is defined as clean air, water, land and a stable climate. It also recognizes the state and local governments as trustees of Maryland’s public natural resources on behalf of both current and future generations.
The Environmental Human Rights Amendment aligns with the first five of the 17 Environmental Justice Principles and would offer legal protection of some of these principles in Maryland’s state constitution.
- The first environmental justice principle speaks to our interdependence with the earth and the right to be free from environmental degradation.
- The Environmental Human Rights Amendment would legally protect and codify the human right to a healthful environment, including clean air, water, land and a stable climate in the Bill of Rights section of the Maryland State Constitution. By protecting this human right, the amendment acknowledges our fundamental and human need to live in a healthful environment that is not degraded or diminished.
- The second environmental justice principle “demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from… discrimination or bias”.
- The Environmental Human Rights Amendment takes this principle to the next level by protecting each Marylander’s right to a healthful environment within the Bill of Rights section of the Maryland State Constitution. Maryland currently has an environmental policy in place that talks about the fundamental and inalienable right to a healthful environment but unfortunately, it is a policy with limited enforceability, scope or teeth.
- The third environmental justice principle outlines “responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.”
- The Environmental Human Rights Amendment requires the state to be a trustee of Maryland’s public natural resources and to protect those resources for current and future generations. The intent of the amendment is to encourage better decision-making on the front end to include how the decision would impact Maryland’s public natural resources that are managed on behalf of the people of Maryland. And it reminds us that everything in life – from the human economy to the biota in the wild – are connected. The ill health of one leads to the ill health of the other.
- The fourth environmental justice principle calls for protection from “….extraction, production and disposal of toxic hazardous wastes and poisons…that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food.”
- The Environmental Human Rights Amendment protects the fundamental right to clean air, water, land and a stable climate. The amendment can be a cause of action by the people against the government if the government permits private entities to infringe on this fundamental right. And it can be used by the government to defend its decisions to protect the environment against special interests.
- The fifth environmental justice principle” affirms the fundamental right to…. environmental self-determination.”
- The EHR Amendment constitutionally protects the fundamental right to a healthful environment of all peoples and supports the self-determination of all peoples to hold the state or local governments accountable if they infringe on this right.
Legally protecting the human right to a healthful environment is not a one size fits all solution. When passed in Maryland, it will be a legal tool that people can invoke if their rights are infringed upon by state or local governments. It is also a tool for local governments and state agencies to use in their role as trustees to protect Maryland’s public natural resources from degradation and harm.
How can Marylanders get involved?
- Get informed — you can learn more about Maryland’s Environmental Human Rights Amendment at www.mdehr.org/home or by watching webinars about environmental rights on the MDEHR YouTube channel.
- Follow MDEHR — you can sign up for email updates, follow our blog at www.mdehr.org/stories and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
- Be a Volunteer Ambassador — you can sign up to volunteer and help educate your state and local representatives and community groups. MDEHR is holding an Ambassador Training on September 12 from 3-6pm and over three consecutive evenings on October 10, 11 and 12 at 7-8pm. RSVP here. If you have a group of 5 or more, you can schedule a training session by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org