Proposed Amendment Announced in 37 States Today: Conservationists Hail State Legislators' Call For Environmental Amendment To U.S. Constitution

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(09/25/1996) - Washington, D.C. - Defenders of Wildlife says that action by legislators in 37 states* today may go down in American history books for its significance in protecting future generations. In their respective capitals, state legislators announced they will propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to guarantee to all current and future Americans the right to a clean and healthy environment.

Defenders' President Rodger Schlickeisen, who called for such an amendment in the Tulane Environmental Law Journal last year, reacted to the state announcements with a statement saying, "We commend these state legislators for their leadership in calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution proclaiming that the nation's natural resources are the heritage of all Americans, including future generations. Without such an amendment, it is doubtful that we will be able to adequately protect our children and their descendants from the cumulative effects that our current actions have in diminishing the planet's rich biological heritage."

Led by Leon G. Billings of the Maryland State Assembly and Richard L. Brodsky of the New York Assembly, the legislators said they will introduce legislation calling for an amendment to the Constitution in each of their 37 states. To take effect, the amendment would have to be passed by Congress and ratified by 38 states, or by a constitutional convention called by 34 states.

Its sponsors pointed out the need for the constitutional amendment due to the anti-environmental emphasis of the 104th Congress and of recent Supreme Court rulings. Schlickeisen commented that, "This current Congress reminds us how easily three decades of bipartisan environmental protection legislation can be undermined. However, the case for a constitutional amendment is not just that this Congress and this Supreme Court are so terribly anti-environmental in their actions and rulings. The fact is that there is a whole new set of particularly pernicious environmental problems that have only come to be understood in the past few decades, and these problems are very resistant to either legislative or judicial solutions. A critical feature of these post-1970s environmental problems is that they inflict their toll through myriad consequences that become evident only through their cumulative effects realized over decades. The result is that the harm they cause to current generations is minimal or nil, while that inflicted on future generations could be grotesque in its dimensions."

As reported in 1990 by the blue-ribbon EPA Science Advisory Committee appointed by President George Bush, there is widespread scientific consensus that the problems that pose the gravest risk to the global environment and human welfare are loss of species, loss of their natural habitats, global warming and ozone depletion. Unchecked, all four could seriously threaten the rich biological diversity that supports life on Earth. The loss of species and natural habitats results directly in the loss of biodiversity, while the other two are threats to the physical environment that in turn alter ecosystems and life on Earth. (Since 1990, there is also mounting evidence of a possible fifth major "new" problem related to the dispersal of industrial chemicals that enter the food chain and disrupt hormones in animal species including humans.)

Defenders says that loss of biological diversity reduces the promise of developing new medicines to fight disease, of using unique biological processes as medical models to discover new health benefits, and of preserving a sufficient variety of food sources to feed an exploding human population. Loss of distinctive animals, plants and landscapes deprives humanity of significant aesthetic, recreational and emotional benefits. And, Schlickeisen notes, ultimately this loss could threaten human life support systems by crippling the ability of natural ecosystems to perform such services as regulating atmospheric gasses, purifying water, decomposing wastes, generating fertile soils, and cycling vital nutrients.

In addition to the scientific perspective, Schlickeisen says "the perspective of many moral theorists is that loss of biological diversity represents exactly the kind of problem to which we are compelled to respond in the name of intergenerational equity. The Constitution already guarantees to `our Posterity' legal rights to go along with their moral rights to such fundamental values as liberty, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and private property. What is necessary is to establish that our Posterity has an equal moral right to benefit from the natural environment and that these future generations should be equally protected by a legal right stated in the Constitution."

The amendment proposed by state legislators incorporates Defenders' concern for future generations:

The natural resources of the nation are the heritage of present and future generations. The right of each person to clean and healthful air and water, and to the protection of the other natural resources of the nation, shall not be infringed upon by any person.

*The 37 states in which legislators are simultaneously announcing their call for this amendment today are: Alaska, Arizona, Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

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Contact(s):

Joan Moody, (202) 682-9400 ex.220 (Media)