Maryland Constitutional Amendment
for Environmental Human Rights
The proposed constitutional amendment will add two new protections in the Declaration of Rights section of the Maryland state constitution.
“Each person, as a matter of human dignity, has the fundamental and inalienable right to a healthful environment.”
“The State, as trustee of Maryland’s natural resources, including its air, water, land, wildlife and ecosystems, shall preserve them for the benefit of both current and future generations.”Environmental Human Rights Amendment – proposed amendment language
Why is an Environmental Human Rights Amendment Needed?
As human beings, we 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 these 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 bearing the burden of this pollution and the consequences of health disparities. Our state has created systems that reinforce inequity from generation to generation and it’s time to make fundamental changes to those systems.
What will an Environmental Human Rights Amendment do?
The proposed Environmental Human Rights Amendment is a legal and 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