Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

The green amendment goes before the legislature again

Several Democratic lawmakers want to change the New Mexico constitution to guarantee future generations the right to a clean environment.

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, are the primary sponsors of a joint resolution for which nearly two dozen of their colleagues have already expressed their support.

The legislative session begins on Tuesday and the joint resolution is among the bills tabled before it begins.

This is the second year they have supported a joint resolution aimed at amending the state’s Bill of Rights to include environmental rights. This is colloquially referred to as the “Green Amendment”.

Because it’s a constitutional amendment, voters would have to approve it if it passed the legislature.

If voters approve, the fundamental rights section of the state constitution would be amended to include the rights of future generations to clean water and air, and a stable climate and healthy environment. It would also recognize the cultural, natural and health values ​​of the environment.

Last year, the joint resolution stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

One difference between this year’s joint resolution and the one introduced last year is that it now states that “no monetary damages shall be awarded for a breach of this section”. Sedillo Lopez told NM Political Report that passage of the Civil Rights Act, which allows people to seek $2 million in damages for violations of the Bill of Rights, negated the need for damages in the joint resolution this year .

“The intent of this change was not to sue the state for money,” she said. “This is about getting the state to do the right thing. And protect the environment.”

Sedillo Lopez said the change would allow people to sue the state when authorities fail to meet their obligations to protect the environment, including clean air and water.

Sedillo Lopez pointed to policies introduced under Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration and reversed under Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. She said the green amendment would make it harder to reverse environmental policies when governments change. It would also allow the court to reverse permits granted without proper environmental protection.

New Mexico will not be the first state to pass such an amendment. Sedillo Lopez highlighted Montana and Pennsylvania as examples of green change states.

While some critics fear it will lead to an increase in lawsuits being brought to court, Sedillo Lopez said there have been about a dozen challenges in other states — 12 in Montana and 17 in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Ferrary, who is leading the effort in the House of Representatives, said the state is at a crucial moment.

“We face challenges to the quality of our water from threats such as PFAS contamination; the amount of water available for drinking, ecosystem support and business activities of all kinds is a growing challenge; wildfires due to a growing climate crisis; Air pollution in our urban centers but also near fossil fuel industries; and other threats to our state’s water, air and natural resources that are essential to the health, safety and economies of our people and communities,” Ferrary said in a statement. “I believe this resolution will help us provide important, missing and needed safeguards. Most importantly, passage of the proposed amendment by our Legislature does not automatically result in a change to the Constitution, but rather that we entrust this most important decision to the people of our state – the Constitution belongs to them and it is only right that we New Mexicans give the opportunity to make a choice.”

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