Legislative Concerns

The New Mexican Green Amendment Movement

In New Mexico, legislators have tried — and failed — three times to get a “Green Amendment” across the finish line. As of June 2023, the proposal is still alive but stalled….

Lawmakers in at least 13 US states are currently pushing for such Amendments to their State Constitutions. So far, only New York, Montana and Pennsylvania have adopted them.

So what is a Green Amendment?

Green Amendments are legal language placed in the Bill of Rights to a State Constitution, giving those rights legal armor.

Green Amendments (often called Environmental Rights Amendments) establish a constitutional mandate recognizing a healthy environment as a generational legal right of all citizens. Thus, these amendments bolster environmental health and safety as being part of our basic civil liberties. Equal in status as such rights as Freedom of Speech and the Right to Petition the government.

The New Mexico State Proposal reads: “The people of the state have the natural, inherent and inalienable right to a clean and healthy environment, including water, air, soil, flora, fauna, ecosystems and climate, and to the protection of the natural, cultural, scenic and healthful qualities of the environment” for present and future generations.

Where did the Green Amendment movement come from?

In Pennsylvania, in 2013 the Delaware Riverkeeper Network led by attorney Maya van Rossum, won a watershed legal victory that not only protected Pennsylvania communities from frackers, but affirmed the constitutional right of people in the state to a clean and healthy environment.

Following this victory, van Rossum launched the Green Amendment movement, dedicated to mobilizing for constitutional change at the State level in order to secure environmental rights as a civil right.

The pros of such Amendments in a world of increasing environmental challenges and inequalities are obvious.

Green Amendments provide a legal backstop that can be used by community, public, government and even business interests to provide a check on government authority that overreaches and fails to protect environmental rights.

Passing a Green Amendment in every state across the nation can serve as an invaluable tool for communities facing disproportionate environmental burdens.

The push to make pollution prevention central to every level of government decision-making is undoubtedly necessary. However, at the same time, the argument is circulating that protective legislation could add more requirements to the permitting process and slow down the transition to clean energy.

The New Mexican Green Amendment

The main reason the Green Amendment proposal failed this year in New Mexico was due to a State report suggesting that a Green Amendment could dramatically slow the permitting process for renewable energy projects by creating new legal uncertainties.

Ironically, the “Green amendment” ran up against concerns that it would hamper clean energy projects.

The fiscal impact report, prepared by the New Mexico legislature’s Legislative Finance Committee, concluded that “the legal uncertainty that could be created by the amendment, as written, might result in costly litigation that could impact the financial feasibility of certain energy projects.”

Specifically, the report concludes that instead of being used to protect residents from polluting industries — as it is intended to — the amendment could significantly slow the permitting process for renewable projects, including wind, solar or even transmission lines, while courts take time to establish precedent. The proposal might also hinder New Mexico’s goal of having a carbon-free energy system by 2045, the report said.

State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D), one of the bill’s co-sponsors and a champion for environmental initiatives in NM, called the state report “misinformation.”“It is basically saying that the green amendment would be bad for renewable energy, which is absolutely false,” she told The Climate 202. “The analysis is filled with misstatements and miscitations of laws.”

Maya K. van Rossum, founder of the environmental nonprofit Green Amendments for the Generations, said she disputed the notion that clean energy operations could be harmed by a green amendment. She said the amendment could actually be used in court to defend clean energy projects against legal challenges because of the clause requiring the state to provide a stable climate for “present and future generations.”

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