The state Assembly on Monday gave final approval to a constitutional amendment guaranteeing New Yorkers have clean air and water, sending the sweeping environmental "bill of rights" to voters in a referendum in November.
For environmental groups, the amendment's advancement is a victory that could lead to further action on climate change and boosting drinking water standards. But, lawsuit reform groups fret the measure could lead to a torrent of lawsuits citing the amendment's lofty goals.
The amendment, which was previously approved for the second time in two years by the state Senate last month, calls for 19 million New Yorkers to have the "right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment."
“The Assembly Majority has fought tirelessly to ensure that our state protects our precious natural resources and our people,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Everyone deserves access to clean drinking water and clean air. This constitutional amendment gets us one step closer to guaranteeing that right to every New Yorker.”
The amendment has the backing of more than 70 environmental groups who had pushed for the language to be added to the state constitution for years.
“Does every New Yorker have a right to clean air and clean water? The State Legislature has again answered this question with an emphatic—YES. With the final passage of the Environmental Bill of Rights by the Assembly, New Yorkers will be able to answer this question for themselves in November," said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of Environmental Advocates NY. "Until then, we look forward to working with all likeminded New Yorkers to ensure the right to clean air and water is finally included in our Constitution.”
The amendment is an overarching capstone to a series of major environmental proposals approved in recent years, ranging from a ban on single-use plastic bags in most retail and grocery stores, as well as a sweeping set of emissions reduction goals meant to combat climate change into the middle of the century.
But not everyone is pleased. The Lawsuit Reform Alliance, a group the supports tort law changes in the state, is worried the amendment will lead to "an explosion of litigation" that would do little to help the environment.
The group pointed to a similar measure proposed in Maryland that did not pass.
"New York’s cozy relationship with the personal injury trial bar has bred a robust litigation industry and this proposed amendment will only solidify the state’s reputation as the lawsuit capital of the world," said Tom Stebbins, the group's executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York. "The Empire State already has the country’s highest annual per-household lawsuit costs, estimated at $6,066 per-household in 2016. If approved by the voters, the Green Amendment will only make matters worse."