Now is the time for a Washington state green amendment - Salish Current
February 19, 2024
Now is the time for a Washington state green amendment
Mimi Margulies

The people of Washington state — including future generations — need the protection of a “green” amendment to the state constitution, assert those working to inform legislators and raise awareness of the need around the state. (Salish Current photo)

February 19, 2024
Now is the time for a Washington state green amendment
Mimi Margulies

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

The time has come to add a green amendment to the Washington State Constitution to promote and protect the health and well-being of every Washingtonian, now and for future generations. Article I of our state constitution is a declaration of our inalienable rights, such as those of life, liberty, religious freedom and free speech. 

The Washington Green Amendment (WA GA), as proposed, recognizes and elevates our right to clean air and water, healthy ecosystems and the preservation of their natural, cultural, scenic and healthful qualities to that same inalienable standard, and ensures its enforceability when infringed upon by inappropriate government action. It promotes environmental justice by constitutionally requiring all levels of government officials and agencies within Washington to protect the health and rights of all present and future generations of residents regardless of race, ethnicity, geography or wealth.

Industrial practices that commonly ignore externalities, damaging development and, at times, misguided government decision-making have violated our basic human right to live with clean air and soils, plentiful and pure water, and a stable climate with healthy ecosystems that support and enrich our lives. 

The WA GA would address this situation and help guide our government in protecting the health and well-being of all its residents by providing a pathway to equitable and fair protections. It establishes a legal framework for addressing existing violations as well as to avoid pollution and land degradation before there is costly remediation, now and into the future. 

Maya van Rossum makes a case for constitutional amendments to protect the environment, enshrine human rights for clean water and clean air, and hold polluters and fossil fuel companies accountable, in “The Green Amendment” (Disruption Books, 2017).

While Washington has some of the “greenest” laws in the U.S., there remain gaps and misinterpretations that are still allowing harm. Environmental problems persist with people drinking polluted water, breathing contaminated air, being forced to live next to dangerously contaminated sites and experiencing the growing impacts of climate change. 

The WA GA is needed because shifting political winds could cause existing laws to be overturned more easily in its absence. To wit, our initiative process is now being used in an attempt to overturn our groundbreaking Climate Commitment Act. Finally, harms from technological change typically outpace legislation’s ability to respond.

Green amendments have already been passed in Pennsylvania (1971), Montana (1972) and New York (2021). In addition to Washington, efforts are currently underway to pass green amendments in 20 other states, with bills introduced this year in Hawaii and New Mexico. There is also growing global interest in recognizing people’s right to clean air, water, and a healthy environment for current and future generations.

Those states that have passed green amendments already experience positive impacts, securing better government decisions to protect communities and avoid the devastating costs of pollution to health and land impacts.

Just last August, the youth-led case Held v. Montana set a groundbreaking precedent: the court found that Montana’s green amendment granted the plaintiffs standing and found that the state legislature had violated Montanans’ constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment when it passed law favorable to the fossil fuel industry that would allow environmental degradation to occur. In Pennsylvania, a pro-fracking law was ruled unconstitutional. In New York, residents prevailed in a suit against the state for allowing polluting violations at a landfill that was releasing harmful toxins and greenhouse gasses.

Rep. Debra Lekanoff [D-Bow] has been the leading legislative proponent of the WA GA, which has had hearings in the House Environment and Energy Committee in 2021, 2022 and most recently 2024. Thanks to the efforts of the WA GA team, our legislators are learning there is significant and growing support among their constituents for its future passage. 

Passing the WA GA will require a two-thirds majority in both state houses, followed by a majority vote of the people. This is a long-term project that may require several introductions and hearings before passing. For perspective, it took a decade before the use of stop signs was enacted in the U.S. — it was opposed as an infringement on individual rights. The WA GA Team continues its work of cultivating the necessary grassroots and legislative support so we can hold our government to being a body of the people, by the people and for the people.

During this time of polarization and division, we need legislation that everyone supports. This amendment could be a bipartisan legacy based on the common values we all share. Both economic prosperity and the well-being of society are founded upon the health of our shared natural resources and their long-term protection. Fostering healthy economic growth that prevents public illness and its costs due to pollution, cleanup, and recovery from climate-related disasters like flooding and wildfires, losses to agriculture, business operations, and tourism due to extreme weather and devastating pollution levels is something we can all support. 

Further information can be found at wagreenamendment.org and forthegenerations.org. To join our movement here in Washington, please contact David Kipnis at dakipnis@gmail.com.

— Contributed by Mimi Margulies

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.

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