Will New Jersey Make a Healthy Environment an Inalienable Right?

Garden State could follow Pennsylvania and Montana and pass constitutional amendment to safeguard clean air, water

Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen)
Are clean air and clean water a constitutional right?

They are considered so in Pennsylvania and Montana, and if some lawmakers and environmentalists get their way, New Jersey would be the third state in the nation to designate a healthy environment as an inalienable right.

Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), the chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, yesterday said he plans to introduce a bill that, if passed, would provide the people with a constitutional right to a healthy environment.

“I have long fought for and believe in the right to clean air and water. If we do not have these two basic necessities, nothing else matters. It is our most basic need,’’ said Eustace, joined by two assemblywomen. “I look forward to making clean air and water a constitutional right in the Garden State.”

The proposed constitutional amendment draws from language passed in Pennsylvania. Approved in 1971, it was pretty much ignored until a state Supreme Court decision four years ago reinterpreted the provision and recognized its legal importance.

If New Jersey passes the proposal, it will ensure that the right to a healthy environment is recognized as a fundamental liberty that will be protected like other longstanding freedoms, such as free speech and freedom of religion, according to Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper.

“The right to clean water and clean air is as fundamental to life as anything else, yet those rights are not protected and we all suffer accordingly,’’ said David Pringle, legislative director of Clean Water Action.

With the Trump administration dismantling environmental protections, Eustace said it is important for the state to step up to safeguard its air, water, and environment. “We have great support for this,’’ he said.

Under the proposal, the state would serve as a trustee of New Jersey’s public natural resources, conserving and maintaining them for the benefit of all the people.