This year’s election offers New York voters a chance to establish clean air and water as a constitutional right.

Among the items on next week's ballot is ballot question two, the Environmental Rights Amendment, which would add language to the New York State Constitution, making clean air, clean water and a healthy environment a constitutionally protected right.

If passed, it would directly affect residents in cities such as Newburgh along the Hudson River, which have faced water contamination issues in recent years, an enshrined right to clean water would help Newburgh return to original water sources, a local advocate says.

What You Need To Know

  • Proposal 2 adds a "right to clean water, clean air, and a healthful environment to the New York Constitution's Bill of Rights”

  • Election Day is Nov. 2; early voting started Oct. 23

  • Supporters say the amendment would help prevent water contamination

Tamsin Hollo is a part of the Newburgh Clean Water project and has worked in the Newburgh community on these issues for years.

“It’s a very special community,” says Hollo. “The environment is very particular. That shouldn’t have anything to do with how affluent your community is. Everyone should be able to enjoy a clean, safe environment, which is useable by all.”

If approval by voters on Tuesday, the amendment could give New Yorkers more legal avenues when facing water or air pollution issues.

Hollo says that codifying clean air and water rights would be a life-changer for neighbors in cities like Newburgh. She attributes health issues faced by residents to the city’s history of water contamination, including immune response and vaccine efficacy, which, she believes, inflated the city’s positivity rates in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opposition to the amendment focuses on the legislation’s ambiguous language that opens parties up to lawsuits and significant costs that some say could affect the business climate in the state.

"I’m all for clean air and clean water. Who isn’t? But in the face of ambiguity, you will have distrust, you will have lawsuits, you will have costs and I’m trying to avoid that," state Senator Dan Stec said.

Hollo said, “We are frontline communities, fighting pollution every day, and it’s the residents of these communities that have to bear the outcome. So the last thing we need is any more toxicity in the environment. Our residents simply can’t take it.”