Taking Action to Ensure Each Person’s Right to a Healthful and Sustainable Environment

WRITTEN BY NINA CARDIN

Director of the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights.

As a matter of basic human dignity, we, the people, deserve to live in an environment that is not polluted or degraded. And our youth deserve a stable climate in their future.

In 1973, Maryland recognized “each person’s fundamental and inalienable right to a healthful environment” in the Maryland Environmental Policy Act [MEPA]. Lofty words, but MEPA never had enforcement powers and has largely been ignored in the intervening 49 years. The result has been a disproportionate concentration of environmental pollution and degradation in low-income and BIPOC communities with negative health consequences, including increased rates of asthma and cancer. Environmental pollution has also increased the vulnerability of Maryland communities to the negative impacts of climate change.

To remedy this – and more – Delegate Wanika Fisher and Senator Will Smith, are championing an amendment to our state constitution that would put the right to a healthful and sustainable environment on par with other civil rights, like the freedom of speech.

Introduced in the Maryland General Assembly, the Constitutional Amendment for Environmental Rights (HB596/SB783) would add two protections to the Declaration of Rights of our Maryland state constitution: 

1) each person’s fundamental right to a healthful and sustainable environment

2) the State, as trustee, shall protect Maryland’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Seven other states have environmental rights protections in their state constitutions. Most recently, New York voters ratified their version of the Environmental Rights Amendment in November with support from 69% of voters. Fourteen other states, including Maryland, are currently reviewing similar amendments.

By elevating the right to a healthful environment to the same level as such fundamental rights as freedoms of the press, religion, and speech, the Amendment would provide constitutionally-based protections in addition to those set forth in existing environmental laws and regulations. These principles would advance the creation of new laws and regulations; aid the enforcement of existing laws and regulations; strengthen the basis for addressing cumulative effects that disproportionately impact minority and low-income communities; and empower Maryland residents to hold state and local governments accountable for violations of their environmental rights.

The Amendment also makes explicit the State’s obligation to consider the impact of its decisions on future generations. A broad coalition of Marylanders support establishing the right to a healthful environment in our state constitution. In a recent poll, the majority of Maryland-registered voters reported that they would vote for this proposed amendment if the election were held today.

It’s time for our Maryland state legislators to pass the Constitutional Amendment for Environmental Rights (HB596/SB783) and put this amendment on the ballot for voters to approve. 

Here’s how you can take action to protect each person’s right to a healthful environment and ensure the right to a sustainable environment for today’s youth and future generations.

1) Sign and share the Amendment Petition which asks House and Senate Leadership to pass this amendment and put the right to a healthful environment on the ballot for voters to ratify.
2) Write your state legislator and ask for their support and vote for HB596/SB783. You can use our letter campaign here.

The proposed vision of a healthful future cannot come to fruition without a successful transition away from fossil fuels. That happens to be right up our alley here at Neighborhood Sun because we’ve made it our mission to ensure that clean energy is accessible to ALL. We believe that in order to do that, we must be active participants in policy decisions related to social and environmental impact, especially the ones that affect the communities we serve. As a company founded right here in Montgomery County, Maryland, we are grateful for the opportunity to support a bill that will directly benefit the members of our local community and set an important precedent for other states to follow.

Join us in supporting the petition to advance the human rights of Maryland’s residents!

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