Maryland Constitutional Amendment
for Environmental Human Rights
WHEREAS, all living things are dependent upon the gifts of a healthful environment; and
WHEREAS, the full expression of human dignity is incompatible with a degraded environment; and
WHEREAS, a sustainable, regenerative ecosystem and stable climate are essential to support a vibrant society and economy; and
WHEREAS, access to a healthy and healthful environment is a birthright of all; now, therefore, let it be enacted:
(A) That each person has a fundamental and inalienable right to a healthful and sustainable environment, and said right shall not be infringed.
(B) That the State, as trustee, shall protect, conserve, and enhance Maryland’s natural resources, including its air, lands, waters, wildlife, and ecosystems, for the benefit of both present and future generations.
Why is an Environmental Human Rights Amendment Needed?
Like all life on earth, human beings depend on clean air, clean water, healthy soil, and a stable environment. Without these essentials, all other rights are jeopardized. As you can see from the image below, Maryland residents face increasing exposure of pollutants in the air, water, and land which have negatively impacted public health with increased rates of lung disorders, heart disease and cancer. Even worse, the pandemic revealed that disparities in exposure to air pollution also increased the likelihood of developing Covid19 in black and brown communities.
In 1973 the Maryland General Assembly passed the Maryland Environmental Policy Act which recognized that “each person has the fundamental and inalienable right to a healthful environment.” Yet, many state agencies failed to enact rules to enforce this right and the policy lies dormant.
We can and must do better for our communities: from Maryland landfills with harmful greenhouse gas emissions, to the CAFOs and nitrate pollution on the Eastern shore, to concentrated power plants and superfund sites in Prince George’s and Calvert Counties, to PFAS contaminating drinking water in Montgomery County and fish in Piscataway Creek and the Potomac River, and many more.
The consistent thread across these examples is the reality that communities of color and those who live in low-income neighborhoods are the communities that bear the greatest burden of this pollution and the harshest consequences of health disparities.
Such inequities are carried forward and reinforced from generation to generation. It is time to make fundamental changes to reverse and prevent further inequities and harm.
What will an Environmental Human Rights Amendment do?
The proposed Environmental Human Rights Amendment is a legal accountability tool that can be used by Marylanders, NGO’s, local governments, and state agencies to ensure that our rights to a healthful environment are protected and enforced.
Such constitutional rights elsewhere in the US and around the world have been proven to:1
- Create an enforceable right to a healthful environment
- Strengthen state and local governments’ ability to protect natural resources
- Strengthen the passage and enforcement of environmental laws
- Promote stronger environmental regulations
- Close the gaps in environmental laws
- Act as a guardrail to prevent the most egregious forms of harm
- Promote the creation of stronger environmental regulations
- Promote environmental justice and remedy past injustices
- Establish environmental health and environmental equity as fundamental values of our society
1David R. Boyd, The Effectiveness of Constitutional Environmental Rights, Yale UNITAR Workshop,, April 26/27, 2013