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Constitutional right to clean environment up for a vote in state legislature

Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s House lawmakers will consider a constitutional amendment later this month that would guarantee residents a right to a clean and healthy environment.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton says it would provide a stronger legal framework to enforce existing environmental regulations and give residents grounds to sue if they believe the state does not adequately protect their right to a clean environment.

Agencies like the Department of Agriculture expressed concern that a surge of litigation could strain their budgets, but Wilson-Anton argues those problems haven’t played out in other states that adopted similar constitutional amendments.

“When we look at other states that have a Green Amendment like Pennsylvania, there was an increase in litigation but not to the extent that it would put a strain on any department," she said.

Pennsylvania adopted a similar amendment in 1971, though the state’s courts only began to interpret it more strictly in recent years.

Kerri Evelyn Harris, an organizer with the Mid-Atlantic Justice Coalition, says the bill would also require the state to consider the impacts of future infrastructure and development projects on air, soil and water quality.

“What it does do is put the onus on the state of Delaware to ensure that as we’re passing regulations and laws, we’re considering the long-term health impacts on all Delawareans,” she said.

Wilson-Anton first introduced the bill during last year’s legislative session. Its supporters hope that it can gain enough momentum in the next two months to move forward.

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority vote in two consecutive legislative sessions to be adopted.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.