Voters this fall are considering a change to the New York state constitution that sounds straightforward, but could have a big impact on air and water in New York.
The proposed amendment is only 15 words long, guaranteeing to New York residents the constitutional right to clean air and water. But the long-term effect could have a wide-ranging effect. The amendment is one of five voters are considering on the ballot this fall.
"It's going to usher in a whole new level of decision making by government, but it's also going to empower citizens to be asking government to be better," said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of the Environmental Advocates NY.
Iwanowicz says the push for the amendment began years ago, part of a grassroots effort by local advocacy organizations.
"Really over the last five years is where that campaign unfolded where citizen groups have come to seasoned environmental lobbyists like myself, and the rest of my team asking us to change the constitution so we would have this legal right," he said.
If granted final approval by voters this year, the amendment could give New Yorkers more legal avenues when facing water or air pollution issues.
"It would give you the ability to go to government saying, 'listen the water is contaminated, you must act, and act swiftly to cleanup the water contamination problem because if you don't, I may sue you for violating my acccess to clean water,'" Iwanowicz said.
And this would make governments more proactive, not reactive when considering environmnetal concerns.
"It sets a different foundation. Our laws right now are based on controlling levels of pollution or cleaning it up after pollution episodes reach a crisis level," he said. "A foundation of having a bedrock principle says all decisions now will be more geared toward preventing that pollution."