Did you know that in 48 of our 50 states, people have no legal right to clean air, clean water or a healthy environment? State and local governments can enact policies and permits without considering the air you breathe or the water you drink. This is how chemical plants in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” were built adjacent to neighborhoods and schools. It is how the New England Clean Energy Connect power line can locate in Maine towns that could experience environmental damage from the project.

The Pine Tree Amendment is a proposed constitutional amendment that would add citizen rights to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment to our state constitution. It would protect Mainers by providing a legal basis for citizens, and state and local governments, to take action against harmful policies or developments.

Two states, Montana and Pennsylvania, have similar amendments. In Pennsylvania, the gas industry convinced the state legislature that fracking should be exempt from local zoning ordinances, and allowed to locate anywhere. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network sued the state for allowing this, based on the constitutional right of Pennsylvania residents to a healthy environment. They won! As a result, local zoning ordinances prohibiting fracking were reinstated.

In Montana, a proposed gold mining operation would have released millions of gallons of toxic effluent into the pristine Blackfoot River. Because Montanans have a constitutional right to clean air and clean water, citizen advocates were able to halt this project.

The Pine Tree Amendment (L.D. 489) has been the focus of a public hearing and a work session and now faces a vote by the full Maine Legislature. It would add the following language to our state constitution: “The people of the State have the right to a clean and healthy environment and to the preservation of the natural, cultural and healthful qualities of the environment. The State may not infringe upon these rights. The State shall conserve, protect and maintain the State’s natural resources, including, but not limited to, its air, water, land and ecosystems for the benefit of all the people, including generations yet to come.”

Nothing is more fundamental to our health, our future and our self-determination than clean water, clean air and a healthy environment. Right now we rely on federal and state laws to protect us by safeguarding natural resources. But laws can be changed, so this protection is not ensured. We need a constitutional amendment to provide guidance to our governing bodies and ensure that our environmental rights are permanent.

If it passes, the Pine Tree Amendment would protect the valuable quality of place that is the basis of our hospitality, tourism, travel, fishing, agriculture and forest products industries. We would be sending a message to the world that a clean and healthy environment is our identity and our priority – for the long term. It would protect investments in business and real estate by ensuring that the environment will remain healthy and clean. It would protect the health of our children and grandchildren, and ensure that no Legislature, governor or law can take their fundamental environmental rights away.

I urge you to contact your state senator and state representative and ask them to support L.D. 489. A vote in support of L.D. 489 is a vote for Maine’s clean environment, clean economy and our prosperous future.

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