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Environment

Green Amendment would add ‘healthy environment’ to constitutional rights in Washington

Olympic Mountains Olympia
Ted S. Warren
/
The Associated Press file
The Olympic Mountains are seen in the distance above West Bay and Capitol Lake on a sunny day in January 2019.

Changes to the state constitution are fairly rare, and the bar is high to enact them: a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature, followed by a statewide vote.

That’s not stopping two state lawmakers from proposing a new Green Amendment for Washington, to enshrine the right to a clean and healthy environment as the law of the land.

Even in the short 60-day session, they’ve coordinated pre-filing the measure in the House and Senate, filing twin bills Thursday that would ask voters to follow in the footsteps of New York, Pennsylvania and Montana and add a “Green Amendment” to the state constitution.

Prime sponsor of this quest is Washington’s only Native American lawmaker, Rep. Debra Lekanoff, who centers much of her work around environmental stewardship.

State Rep. Debra Lekanoff
State Rep. Debra Lekanoff

She says just as people expect freedom of religion or freedom of speech, they should have a constitutional right to pure water, clean air and a stable climate.

“The Green Amendment is one sentence, and it is as simple as this: providing all Washingtonians a healthy environment,” Lekanoff said. 

The Democrat from Anacortes first introduced this bill last session. She hopes it can now build on the momentum of high-profile, bipartisan laws that have recently passed, like the HEAL Act for environmental justice and human health. She says it’s about protecting fundamental values that are already widespread.

To make sure that generations from now, my daughter’s granddaughter’s granddaughter’s granddaughter — such as yours — will look back and say the environment is not a Republican, it's not a Democratic platform. It is a Washingtonian platform, to have a healthy environment for everybody.”  

This session, Lekanoff has a powerful co-sponsor in Sen. Mona Das, a Democrat from Kent, who has filed the amendment in the Senate.

Sen. Mona Das
Washington State Legislature
Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent

“I think a constitutional amendment voted by the people would just change the way we operate in the state. I think we would start to realize that we do have a right to clean air, to clean water. We do have a right to help the ecosystems. We do have a right to fight for our future generations,” Das said.

Das was the prime sponsor of the major plastics reduction act that banned single use plastic bags statewide and is phasing out polystyrene takeout containers and coolers. This year she’s the lead sponsor on the RENEW Act, an effort to revamp recycling statewide and make manufacturers responsible for the packaging they produce.

The sponsors say Washington joins a growing movement of states amending their constitutions to protect the environment with "environmental rights amendments," or ERAs. New York recently became the third state in the nation to add a constitutional green amendment.