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2021 environment in review: NY's environmental rights amendment



WSKG is taking a look back at some of the most pressing environmental issues from the last 12 months and how they may move forward in 2022.

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — In a ballot proposal during the 2021 general election, just over 70% of voters cast ballots in favor of adding language to the New York Constitution guaranteeing “clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

Peter Iwanowicz, Executive Director of Environmental Advocates NY, lobbied for the amendment for several years. Iwanowicz told WSKG in an interview after the election that he doesn’t expect to see the amendment result in an onslaught of lawsuits as had been suggested by opponents of the ballot proposition.

He does think the new amendment will come up in regulatory proceedings through the Department of Environmental Conservation, local planning boards and other decision making processes.

"The unequivocal answer from me is yes, absolutely. This is now a part of the decision making process. I mean citizen groups should be writing to the commissioner after Jan. 1 saying 'oh by the way, part of what you need to consider on these permit proposals now is whether you saying yes as a government official would then violate somebody's right to clean air and clean water,’” Iwanowicz said.

He noted that the vote was evenly distributed amongst demographics around the state, suggesting an unusually high favorability for any issue.

"We've become so deeply polarizing and tribal about our issues and it's just really nice that people come around to something like the value of enshrining a legal right for people to have access to being able to enjoy clean water and clean air,” Iwanowicz said.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.