It is gratifying to see that the first lawsuit to use NY’s Environmental Rights Amendment (Green Amendment) is seeking relief for the residents of Monroe County who live near a 300-acre municipal waste landfill.
In the op-ed “Commentary: A new environmental right will mean much for New Yorkers”, Scott Fein, a lawyer and co-author of “New Yorks’ New Constitutional Bill of Rights: Impact and Implications,” answers a question that is often raised in conjunction with passing an environmental rights amendment, what will the amendment do?
“In the first lawsuit to consider the implications of the Green Amendment, a State Supreme Court Justice earlier this month concluded that, despite the approvals and permits issued by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for the operation of a 300-acre municipal waste landfill in Monroe County, if the operation of the landfill adversely impacted the environment of the surrounding community, it violated the state constitution and the operation must be suspended.”
“The court’s decision suggested that because of the Green Amendment, the ultimate determinant of whether an activity is permissible or not is the environmental impact on the community. For low-income and minority communities that have shouldered a disproportionate share of adverse environmental impacts from property development and industry, this provides meaningful leverage to safeguard their residents.” You can read the full op-ed here.
This decision by the NY State Supreme Court affirms that a constitutional right to a healthful environment can be used to put a thumb on the scales of justice on behalf of the people. In this case, residents in the neighborhoods surrounding this landfill have been bearing the burden of environmental pollution, and the State Supreme Court has upheld their right to be heard. The other positive news is that the State Supreme Court considered NY’s Environmental Rights Amendment to be self-executing. In other words, residents can invoke this amendment when their rights are infringed without needing confirmation from any other legal or representative body.
This is just one example of how the residents of Maryland who are bearing a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution could use a constitutional right to a healthful environment to “safeguard their health”.
Learn more about environmental rights and the role they could place in shaping a more equitable future at the our upcoming events in January. Learn more at www.mdehr.org/actions.