Exploring Social Justice: The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right to a Healthy Environment
Articles,  Blog

Exploring Social Justice: The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right to a Healthy Environment


[MUSIC PLAYING] NANCY DAVENPORT:
I’m Nancy Davenport, and I’m the
university librarian. And we are the one of the
sponsors of this series of Exploring Social Justice. The program is also
co-sponsored by the Center for diversity and inclusion
and Kay Spiritual Life Center. And in these programs, we
bring to campus leaders from diverse backgrounds
who are advocates for various human rights
and social justice issues. And so today, I am very pleased
to introduce to you Maya van Rossum, the Delaware
Riverkeeper. She has led the
Delaware Riverkeeper Network for 23 years. And in 2013, Maya and her team
won a watershed legal victory in Pennsylvania that not
only protected communities from ruthless fracking,
but breathed legal life into the constitutional
right of people in the state to a clean and
healthy environment. The role of the
Delaware Riverkeeper is to give the Delaware River
and the communities that depend upon it and
appreciate it a voice at every table that is
a decision-making place, particularly knowing that
decisions made at those tables could either help
or could do harm. The Delaware River Network
works throughout the four states of the Delaware
River watershed– New Jersey, New
York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, and at
the national level. You will see from what you
see right here on the screen that Maya’s advancing the
green amendment movement, seeking to inspire and to
secure constitutional protection for environmental rights
across the nation. She is the author of the
book The Green Amendment– Securing Our Right to
a Healthy Environment. And you all have the opportunity
to put your name into the pot out there because she’s
going to give away a free copy of her book. I am pleased to welcome
you to our podium. I’m sorry that I can’t stay. I have to go get on an airplane. MAYA VAN ROSSUM:
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Safe travels. NANCY DAVENPORT:
Thank you very much. MAYA VAN ROSSUM: Let’s
make sure I take– is this working? Is this working? Is anything working? Can I do it without, or is that
not good for– oh, I need it? Is that one working? OK. All right, terrific. So before I forget,
there were slips outside. And if you don’t
have them, Molly can quickly grab some
and pass them around. So if you want to
receive or be put in for a drawing for a
free copy of the book, this is going to be your
opportunity to do so. And if I don’t say
it now, I’ll forget. So, again, I Maya van Rossum. I’m the Delaware Riverkeeper. I’m also the founder
of a new movement, a new national movement
called Green Amendments for the Generations. And that’s what I’m really
here to talk to you about. Now, the reason why
it’s important for you to know about me being
the Delaware Riverkeeper and actually serving in
that role at this point now for nearly 25 years is for
you to realize and recognize that I have been doing
environmental advocacy for all of that time– very
literally fighting the good fight for our
natural resources and all the communities, human
and non-human, who depend upon the
beautiful Delaware River and every square
inch of its watershed. And so the concept that I’m
going to talk to you about comes as a result of my 25 years
of doing advocacy, realizing that our current system of
environmental protection laws is failing us and that
we need a new path, a new path for
environmental protection here in the United
States of America. The fact of the
matter is, when you look at the local
level, the state level, and the federal
level, we very literally have hundreds of thousands
of environmental protection laws on the books. And as each of these
laws has been passed, and as each of these laws
has been implemented, they have accomplished
a degree of good when it comes to
environmental protection, and we want to recognize that. They have reduced pollution. They have prevented illnesses. They have very literally
saved people’s lives, protected communities from
droughts and from floods and from wildfires,
created jobs, and supported good, local healthy economies. But they’ve only
accomplish those tasks and so much more to a certain
predetermined level, a level predetermined in how
the laws are written and how the laws
are implemented. The fact of the matter is,
fundamentally, our system of environmental
protection laws accepts pollution and degradation
as a foregone conclusion. It assumes it’s going to happen. It expects it’s going to happen. If you talk to many
regulators and legislators, they will tell you that
it’s necessary for pollution and degradation to happen in
order to have economic growth. And so, as a result, all of
these environmental protection laws are written
in order to address pollution and degradation to
a certain predetermined level. And beyond that– beyond that– their goal is to manage the how,
the when, the where pollution is going to take place. But they are not written
to in the first instance– in the first instance, to
focus on preventing pollution and preventing harm. And so as a result, when
we look across the nation, we can actually see
how this [AUDIO OUT] environmental protection
is failing us. It’s fundamentally failing
us and failing communities across the nation. And we can see that
through real-world examples about what’s actually happening. We have communities, like the
community of Paulsboro, New Jersey, that find that their
drinking water is contaminated with a dangerous family
of chemicals known as perfluorinated chemicals. There are all kinds of PFCs. There’s PFOA and PFOS
and PFNA and more. The fact of the matter
is all of these PFCs– all of these PFCs are
known human carcinogens and have very serious
health consequences for those who have the
misfortune of coming into contact with
them, let alone those who have the misfortune
of very literally drinking PFCs in their drinking
water unbeknownst to them for literally decades. Now, these PFCs got into the
drinking water of the people of Paulsboro very legally– very legally. The use of PFCs by industry,
the Army, and the Navy has taken place legally
over many, many years. And as a result, these PFCs
have gotten into our environment and into the drinking
water supplies of the people of Paulsboro. But it’s not only the
people of Paulsboro who have their drinking
water contaminated with PFCs. We actually have communities
across the nation that are being similarly impacted. And, again, this
impact is the result of the very legal
use by industry, the Army, and the Navy. But it’s not just the
people of Paulsboro that are being impacted by
pollution and degradation. We have families like
the Stauffer family who find themselves living next
to a highly contaminated site known as the Bishop Tube site. The Bishop Tube site
is super saturated with a variety of
contaminants, including one known as Trichloroethylene– TCE. TCE like PFCs have very
serious health consequences for people who have the
misfortune of coming into contact with it. Now, this site has
been super saturated with TCE for
literally decades now. And the government has known
about the dangerous conditions at the Bishop Tube site for
nearly 30 years at this point. And yet, no meaningful
action has taken place to actually clean up this site. And as a result,
the pollution plume has been allowed to
spread nearly a mile away from the Bishop Tube
site, bringing TCE to new environments, to new
communities in the region. It’s not just the people that
live next to the Bishop Tube site that find themselves
exposed to a super toxic site, like Bishop Tube. We actually have communities
across the nation who find, right in the heart
of their communities, on the outskirts of their
communities, or maybe very literally right next door,
find that they live next to or nearby sites that
are highly contaminated with dangerous toxins of
all kinds that in some cases are being addressed by
government officials, but in many, many cases,
in too many cases, in literally thousands
and thousands of cases are being allowed to sit
being left unaddressed by state and federal
government officials. We have communities, like
the community of Minisink, who within the
last 10 years found that they were about to have
a fracked gas compressor station built right in the
heart of their community. Now, the people of Minisink
didn’t want this fracked gas compressor station built in
the heart of their community because it is known that
fracked gas compressor stations of this kind are a
serious source of hazardous air pollutants. And it’s known that people who
had the misfortune of living next to sites like these
suffer health consequences of all kinds. Despite the fact that we
know this about fracked gas compressor stations,
despite the fact that the people of Minisink
got organized and fought against the construction of this
fracked gas compressor station, despite the fact that we
have all of these state and federal laws in place
that are supposed to protect our communities from pollution
and environmental degradation, the people of Minisink have this
fracked gas compressor station operating right in the heart
of their rural community today. And if you go to Minisink and
you speak with the people, they will tell you how since
this compressor station has been put into operation,
they will tell you how the quality of
their lives has suffered from the 24/7 noise,
light, and pollution that comes from this site. They will tell you how
their property values– how their property
values have degraded, so much so that many of them
who want to sell in order to be able to move
away can’t afford to do so because they
can’t sell their property for enough money. They will tell you about how
their health has suffered as a result of the
pollution that’s being released from this
fracked gas compressor station. But it’s not just the
people of Minisink that are being exposed to
dangerous pollutants being released to the
air very legally. We have communities
across the nation that are being exposed to air
contamination of all kinds from a wide variety of sources,
all being released despite all of these environmental
protection laws that we have in place. You have minority communities
across the nation who continue to be targeted unfairly
for highly polluting operations and activities, right? If you are a minority community,
if you are a low income community, if you are
an immigrant community, you have a much higher
rate of exposure to dangerous toxins,
whether we’re talking about pollution
and toxins in the air, in the water, or
on the landscapes. And, in fact, minority
children don’t have to wait to be born to
have a higher rate of exposure to dangerous toxins that
will impact their health and their lives and
even their capacity to learn throughout the
length of their life, right? Minority children have
a much higher rate of exposure to dangerous
toxins while they are forming in the womb
before they’re ever even born. It’s not just the people
who are being impacted by pollution and degradation. Plants and animal
species of all kinds are being impacted as well. This is one of the few Atlantic
sturgeon that’s actually born in the Delaware River today. The Delaware River
is actually home to a genetically unique
line of Atlantic sturgeon, a genetically unique
line that actually exists nowhere else
on Earth except in our beautiful Delaware River. At this point, because
of the very legal actions and activities of people,
we have less than 300 spawning adults left. That’s all. And yet, week in and week out
in my role as the Delaware Riverkeeper, I continue
to have to fight against ongoing and
new proposals that are very literally putting these
Atlantic sturgeon on the death block. Of course, we have species
across the nation that are similarly situated,
species in every single state across the nation. And all of this is happening. All of this is happening
despite the fact that we have all of these
environmental protection laws that are in place. And when I go into communities
that find themselves facing some dangerous
industrial operation, proposal, development
project, action, or activity that is going
to damage their environment, damage their communities,
damage their very lives. People always have
the same question. And sometimes they ask this
question with their words, very literally with their
words, but sometimes they ask the question with
their body language. And you can see it as they
sit in the back of the room with their shoulders
slumped, looking increasingly sad and depressed about the
information they’re learning, about this new major threat
that is coming barreling down upon them and their community. And the question is why? Why? Why is this happening to us? Why are we facing
this dangerous threat to our community
and our environment? Don’t we as people here on
this Earth have a right, have a right to
pure water and clean air and a healthy environment? Isn’t that our right by virtue
of the fact that we are people here on this Earth? And I have this sad
job of telling them no. No. You do not have that right. You have a right to
all kinds of things. You have a right to free
speech and freedom of religion. You have private
property rights. You have due process rights. In many states, you have
a right to get divorced. In the state of New York you
have a constitutional right in the Bill of Rights section
of the state constitution to play bingo and to gamble. But here in the United
States of America, you do not have a right
to a healthy environment. That is not your right except
with very limited exception. Actually, in the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you have a right to all of
these other fundamental freedoms that we hold dear. And you have a constitutional
right in the Bill of Rights section of the
Pennsylvania constitution to pure water, clean air,
and a healthy environment. And so then people, when
they learn that, they ask me, how is it possible? How is it possible that
the people of Pennsylvania have this constitutional right
to a healthy environment when we in communities in other
states across the nation do not? If you look at
Pennsylvania’s history, it’s just as rich in
environmental exploitation as every other state
across the nation. They allow just
as much pollution to be spewed into the air
and just as much pollution to be spewed into the
water as every other state across the nation. They allow just as many
industrial operations to overwhelm
Pennsylvania communities as every other state
across the nation. So what is it about
Pennsylvania that allowed the people
of Pennsylvania to secure this constitutional
right to a healthy environment? Well, the people of
Pennsylvania had this gentleman. His name was Franklin Kury. And Franklin Kury was elected
to the Pennsylvania legislature in the late 1960s. And Franklin Kury
recognized very quickly that one of the reasons why
Pennsylvania’s environment was allowed to become so degraded
was because we were not recognizing environmental rights
and protecting those rights in the same way we
were recognizing and protecting all of those
other political, civil, and human rights
that we hold dear. We were not recognizing
and protecting the inalienable right
to a healthy environment in the Bill of Rights section
of the state constitution. And so Franklin Kury
proposed to change that. And in 1971, Franklin
Kury put forth an amendment that would be
added to the Pennsylvania constitution that would
recognize and protect the people’s right to
pure water, clean air, and a healthy environment,
and would recognize the duty of government officials
to respect, honor, and protect those inalienable
rights in the same way if they respect,
honor, and protect those other fundamental
freedoms we hold dear. And when this provision went
before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, a
very conservative House of Representatives,
much like it is today, the provision actually
passed unanimously. And when it went before
the Pennsylvania Senate, it passed unanimously. And when it went before
the people of Pennsylvania, it passed overwhelmingly
by a vote of 4 to 1. And so in 1971, the
people of Pennsylvania had a constitutionally
recognized and protected right to a healthy environment. And so you would have thought– you would have thought from
that moment on community and environmental protection
in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would have been
much stronger, much firmer, much more effective than
in every other state across the nation. But if you know anything
about Pennsylvania, you will know that that
was not to be the story for Pennsylvania’s environment. And that was it to be the
story because very early on, there was an
incredible overreach in how people sought
to use this newly minted constitutional right
to a healthy environment. And long story short,
because of this, frankly, misuse of the newly minted
constitutional right, we got decisions out of
the Pennsylvania courts almost immediately that,
as the chief justice of the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court described it at the
time, emasculated, disemboweled the newly
minted constitutional right, declared it to be
good public policy, but robbed it of all
the legal strength that every other provision
in the Bill of Rights section of the Pennsylvania
constitution had. And so that’s the way
things stood in Pennsylvania for 42 years. For 42 years, you had this
great constitutional right on the books. But in reality,
nothing had changed for the people of Pennsylvania. Then come the 2000s, and enter
drilling and fracking for gas– shale gas extraction
coming to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and
Pennsylvania communities, bringing with it all of its
highly polluting industrial operations, bringing with
it tremendous deforestation, and land transformation,
and devastation of the natural landscapes across
Pennsylvania, bringing with it the creation of massive
volumes of highly toxic frack wastewater. Wastewater so toxic that
even the industry doesn’t have a good solution
for what to do with it, so they use it to
engage in more fracking, or they store it in plastic
lined pits on the landscape, or they ship it off to states
like Oklahoma, where they inject it into the ground as a
means of disposal in the hopes that they will
never see it again, and in so doing very
literally create hundreds, and hundreds, and
hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds
of earthquakes every year, so much so that
Oklahoma in some years is now the earthquake capital
of the United States of America. It brought with it water
pollution– pollution of our streams and our
rivers and our groundwater and people’s drinking
water supplies. It brought with it the release
of hazardous air pollutants of all kinds, including climate
changing methane emissions. It brought with it
the proliferation of infrastructure, pipelines,
and compressor stations, and more. And given the state of the
law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
and the federal law when it comes to
this industry, it was really pretty easy for
the drillers and the frackers to overwhelm
Pennsylvania’s environment and to overwhelm
Pennsylvania communities. But for the frackers–
for the frackers, it just wasn’t easy enough. They wanted to
find a way to make it even easier for themselves. And so very literally–
very literally– a group of leaders from the
fracking industry got together, and they went
behind closed doors, and they wrote for themselves
a piece of legislation– a piece of legislation
that was passed in 2012, signed by the governor. And when it was passed and
signed by the governor, it came to be known as Act 13. Now, Act 13 was a
veritable gift basket to the industry,
as you can imagine, because the industry
themselves wrote it. And amongst the
things that Act 13 did was Act 13 mandated that
drilling and fracking be allowed to happen in every
part of every community in the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania, including in the heart of
their residential communities. It put in place
automatic waivers for environmental
protections that would apply to every other industry. It gave the power of eminent
domain to the industry so they could take
people’s property rights and force the storage
of explosive gas underneath their ground, whether
or not they wanted it there. It gave relief to
the fracking industry from the obligation
to notify those who are on private
drinking water wells whether or not the industry
may have actually contaminated people’s drinking
water supplies. And it put in place
a medical gag rule that denied medical
professionals access to information about
the chemicals that were being used on a site
that might be harming their patients unless
that doctor signed an agreement that
they would not speak to anybody about these chemicals
potentially causing harm to their patients, including
to the patients themselves. So it was a real, real gift
basket to the industry. And the fact of the
matter is, as bad as things were for the
people of Pennsylvania in 2012 because of
the passage of Act 13, things were about to
get a whole lot worse– a whole lot worse. Now, at the Delaware
Riverkeeper Network, we have been fighting fracking
for years, and actually with quite great success. In fact, to this day, you don’t
have any drilling or fracking anywhere within the boundaries
of the Delaware River watershed, including
the portions of the watershed in New York,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware because of the
work of the Delaware Riverkeeper network. And we have been working to take
our experiences and our success to help other communities in
their battles against fracking. But we obviously had not
been successful in protecting the people of Pennsylvania
that were outside of the boundaries
of our watershed. But we knew– we knew at
the Delaware Riverkeeper network with the
passage of Act 13 that we had to find a way to
take on this devastating law. We had to find a way to
challenge and defeat Act 13. The problem is this was a law
passed by the Pennsylvania legislature and signed
by its governor. So what can you do? What can you do when you have
a piece of legislation that’s been passed and signed? We could have asked the
Pennsylvania legislature to repeal it. Fat chance that was going to
happen in Pennsylvania in 2012. So we had to find
a greater power. We had to find a
higher authority that would allow us to
successfully challenge Act 13. And at the Delaware
Riverkeeper Network, we realized that
we might just now be in that moment in time when
we could use that long ignored environmental rights amendment
and make it the higher power that we could use to
challenge the most devastating aspects of Act 13. And so we got together with
seven towns and a physician and brought a legal
action against Act 13. And we all brought our own
arguments to the table. But the argument that the
Delaware Riverkeeper network brought to the table was
that the provisions of Act 13 that we were challenging
were unconstitutional because they violated
the environmental rights of the people of Pennsylvania. The case went all the way up to
the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and we got an amazing victory
out of that Supreme Court. It was actually at the time a
very conservative Supreme Court led by a very conservative
Supreme Court chief justice. And the plurality opinion
that we secured in our victory was actually written by that
conservative chief justice. And I want to read with you a
few of the things that Chief Justice Castile
said in the opinion he wrote in response
to our legal challenge. By any responsible account, the
exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation– drilling and fracking– will
produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the
people, their children, and future generations– that the natural resources
that were being harmed were resources that
were essential to life, to health, and to liberty,
and that as a result, the provisions of Act 13
that we were challenging violated the
environmental rights of the people of
Pennsylvania and were declared to be
unconstitutional as a result. And so in that moment
with this victory, we not only defeated some of the
most devastating aspects of Act 13, but we very literally
breathed legal life back into that long ignored
environmental rights amendment and returned to the
people of Pennsylvania their constitutional right
to pure water, clean air, and a healthy environment. It’s an amazing victory. And Chief Justice
Castile in his opinion made very, very clear to
the people of Pennsylvania that their right to
a healthy environment was not given to them by article
1 section 27 of Pennsylvania’s constitution– Pennsylvania’s green amendment. This was an inalienable
right that they already had by virtue of the fact
that they were people here on this Earth. But because of
article 1 section 27, this inalienable right was given
the highest legal recognition and protection you
can get under the law here in the United
States of America. That because of
article 1 section 27, every government official
at every level of government was duty bound– duty bound to protect
the environmental rights of the people of Pennsylvania. And they had to
protect those rights not just for
present generations, but for future
generations yet to come. Now, since we
achieved this victory, which was just in
December of 2013– just five short years ago– we at the Delaware
Riverkeeper Network and colleague organizations who
saw the power in our victory have been doing the work of
defining what it actually means to have a constitutional
right to a healthy environment because it isn’t instantly clear
what can stay and what must go. I mean, if you think about
the right to free speech, the right to freedom
of religion– if you think about gun rights– we’ve had those rights
for hundreds of years, and yet we still have
litigation and arguments over what it actually means
in one context or another to have these
constitutional rights. So when it comes to the right
to a healthy environment, we are just starting
that work of defining what it means to have
this constitutional right in the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania and then defending that right. We’re doing the work of
making sure every government official in
Pennsylvania understands that they are duty
bound to protect these environmental
rights and that they have to protect these rights for
present and future generations. And we’re doing the
work of making sure that the people of Pennsylvania
know that they have these rights and helping
them use these rights in their advocacy and
their legal efforts to protect their own local
environments and communities. But in the wake of our victory– of our victory against Act 13– as we were going forth doing
this work in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I
realized pretty quickly that there was something
more in this victory than just for the
people of Pennsylvania, that there was
actually a message for all communities in all
states across the nation– the message that our
right to pure water and clean air and a
healthy environment is an inalienable,
inherent, indefeasible right that belongs to us
by virtue of the fact that we are here on
this Earth, that these are rights that are worthy
of constitutional recognition and protection. And that as a result, we
must rise up together– rise up together in states
across the nation and demand and defend our right to
a healthy environment. And I believe that the
best way we can do that is to rise up together in
what I call a Green Amendment Movement. Rise up together
and seek and secure the passage of green
amendments, like Pennsylvania’s green amendment. And have one added to every
single state constitution in every single state
across our nation. And why do I call it a
Green Amendment Movement? Why do we need a movement? We need a movement
because there are only two states that have a green
amendment of this kind. There are many other states
that talk about the environment in their constitutions. But to the extent that
they’re in the Bill of Rights section of the
constitution, they talk about things
like fishing, hunting, and trapping rights or the
right to navigate waterways. They don’t talk about
the inalienable right to clean water, clean air,
and a healthy environment. Or if they do talk about the
right to a healthy environment, they begin or they
end the sentence with and that’s good public policy. Or they begin or
end the sentence with saying that if you want to
get these environmental rights, then all you have to do
is have your state pass environmental
protection legislation. Well, both of those situations
are the situation we’re in now, and we’ve already talked
about how much harm continues to be inflicted upon
communities despite all that. And most important–
most important– these other states do
not recognize the right to a healthy environment as
an inalienable right protected in the Bill of Rights section
of the state constitution that must be given the
same legal stature and standing as all those
other fundamental freedoms we hold dear. And I just want
to say, of course, while we don’t have
green amendments in all those other states across the
nation other than Pennsylvania or Montana, we also, of course,
don’t have a green amendment or anything close to it
in our US Constitution. And so then the question
becomes for every other state across the nation, are
we in a moment in time when people are
willing to recognize that our current system of
environmental protection laws is failing us? That we need to
find a better path? And that, in fact, a better
path is available to us in the passage of
green amendments? And I think if you
look at the news headlines in every single
state across the nation, you will find that
communities across the nation are suffering– are suffering because of
pollution and degradation. And so I believe that people
are in that moment in time when their minds are
open to the realization that our current system
of environmental laws is failing us and we do
need something better. And, in fact– in fact–
since we’ve started this Green Amendment Movement, we
actually have green amendments proposed in four states. We have one that’s
advancing in New York. We have one that’s
advancing in New Jersey. We had one that’s been
actually proposed– two different versions proposed
in the state of Maryland. They’ve been pulled
back now, but we’ve had two different
interventions proposed in the state of Maryland. And we currently most
recently have one proposed in the state of West Virginia. So people are in that moment. Now, people do want
to know what does it mean to have a green amendment? I mean, really, if you
look at Pennsylvania, fracking is still
happening there. So does a green amendment
really make a difference? And I’m here to tell you
it does make a difference. It’s not going to be
an instant panacea. If we pass a green
amendment, for example, in the state of Maryland,
we don’t instantly wipe away all the bad
environmental stuff that’s happening. We have to go step
by step by step and demonstrate how one
action or activity or another is violating the constitutional
right to a healthy environment and then dealing with it. That’s the situation
we’re in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The fact of the matter
is, fracking was there before we breathed legal life
into that green amendment. If the green amendment had
been legally alive first, I believe we could have kept
fracking out of Pennsylvania. But because fracking
was there first, we now have to go project by
project, moment by moment, engaging in that
constitutional battle. But the thing is, we are
having success in Pennsylvania. And I want you to know,
in all of these states where we don’t have
a green amendment, if we were to pass
a green amendment, good things would start
to happen right away. The right to clean water, clean
air, and a healthy environment would be given the highest
legal protection and standing you can have under the
law in the United States– Bill of Rights protection. Bill of Rights protection
on par with all those other fundamental
freedoms we hold dear. Every group, every
government official would be duty bound to protect
your constitutional right to a healthy environment. And they would have to
protect those rights for present and
future generations. There would be a new layer
of protection under the law. No longer would it be good
enough for legislators or regulators to
say I’ve complied with the statutes
or the regulations on the books in deciding
to put this highly polluting industrial operation
right next to this highly sensitive community. They would have
to show that they did the constitutional
review as well and that whatever their
decision was complied with the constitutional
obligation to protect the environment. There would be a changed focus
in government decision making. No longer would it be on
just simply managing the how, the when, the where of
pollution and degradation. Now the focus would be
on preventing harm first. Government officials
would be duty bound under the
Constitution to consider the impacts of their decisions,
to consider the facts and the science
that were at play. While they were engaging
in their decision making, they would be duty
bound to find a way to protect the environment
at the same time they were advancing whatever other goal
it was that they were seeking to advance. Environmental justice
would be strengthened because now every single
person in the state, regardless of the
color of their skin, regardless of
their income level, regardless of where they lived,
regardless of their physical or mental capacities, would have
the same constitutional right to a healthy environment. And government officials
would be duty bound to protect all of us equitably. We could no longer have
environmental sacrifice zones like we do today. People’s expectations
would be changed. No longer would they be
going to public meetings, hoping their
government officials would make the
right decision when it comes to the environment. Now they would go into these
meetings with an expectation that their government officials
would do the right thing. They would stand straighter. They would speak more firmly. And when they got
the wrong answer, they wouldn’t sit down and shut
up and be sad that they lost. They would be incensed and
they would rise up and battle on to protect their environment
and their environmental rights. Environmental
advocates that today are dismissed as tree
huggers or fish lovers, that are called job killers
and people haters, that are accused of being
environmental terrorists or eco jihadists– no longer would we be
called those names. We would now be recognized
for what we truly are– US patriots that are
rising up together to defend our constitutional
right to a healthy environment. With the passage of
a green amendment, the goal is better
decisions on the front end so we don’t have to engage in
the battles and the advocacies after the fact. So the goal is better
decisions, and we will get them. But when our government
officials get it wrong, we will have immediate
access to the courts that will allow us to challenge
that bad decision, action, or activity that
oversteps and violates the environmental rights of
the people of that state. And so with that, I hope that
I’ve sort of taken you with me on this journey to
really recognize that our current system
of environmental laws is failing us, but that there
is a better path available, and that better path is the
passage of green amendments in every single state
constitution across the nation. And I want you to know we
will start with the states. And in doing that, we will
get better protections every single time we pass
a state green amendment. But at the same time,
we will be laying the groundwork necessary
to ultimately pass a federal green amendment. We can’t start with
the US Constitution. We won’t be victorious. We start with the states. But in starting
with the states, we are building the path necessary
to successfully secure a green amendment in
our US constitution. And it’s a federal
green amendment that will allow us to hold
our Congress and our president accountable when they, too,
assault our inalienable right to a healthy environment. So I’m glad that you came,
and if you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them. If you filled out your slip
for a free copy of the book, pass them to the aisle, and
Molly will collect them, and then we’ll do
the free drawing. [APPLAUSE] Yes? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MAYA VAN ROSSUM: Sure. So the question is whether
environmental degradation is as much the result
of the way people live their lives in the US as
it is being driven by the laws that I’ve just talked about. Absolutely. Absolutely. People have an opportunity
every single day to make a decision in how
they live their lives to– to live their
lives in a way that is more environmentally
protective or less environmentally protective. And that’s valuable. And that’s important. And every single one
of us should think about that every single day. I mean, I turned down a
plastic bottle of water because I was sure to bring my
own refillable bottle of water, right? We all need to make those kinds
of decisions every single day. But we can’t lay
environmental degradation at the foot of these
daily decisions of people. The fact is that
our system of laws is structured in
order to encourage a lot of these
inappropriate behaviors. You raised the question
of fracking and energy development. The fact of the matter is
when you look in Pennsylvania and you look beyond
Pennsylvania, our current system of
environmental protection laws is structured in order to
advance dirty fossil fuels, in order to inhibit
clean energy, like solar and wind
and geothermal. In the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania, we are using our green
amendment to make the point that the use of fracking
and dirty fossil fuels is harmful to people
and the environment and future generations,
and that we need to restructure
the law in a way that will encourage and support
and induce clean energy options, right? But one of the reasons why so
many people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and
many other states can’t get access to those
clean energy options is because of the way
our laws are structured. And all these
politicians that we all have to listen to that say
fracking is a bridge fuel. Fracked gas is the
step to clean energy. Which is nonsense. It’s not a bridge fuel. It’s a bridge fuel devastation. But our laws are
structured to advance that. One of the things that you
get with the green amendment is consideration of laws and
structuring laws and advancing laws that help people
in their daily lives be able to more effectively
be able to make those better decisions. We have so many discussions
across the nation right now about
single-use plastic bags and single-use plastic bottles. Our current system of
laws very significantly is structured in a
way that helps advance the use of single-use plastic,
whether it’s bags, bottles, or other things. If we have green amendments
that restructures the thinking to get legislation
focused on prevention first and anti-degradation
approach to everything, then we can help people
make those better choices by having those better
options more available or having those bad
options not available at all because, truthfully,
we don’t all know everything about everything, right? Some people don’t
realize when they take that plastic bag
or that plastic straw or that plastic water
bottle how devastating it is, not just when it
ends up in the ocean, but how devastating
it is on the front end because the creation
of that plastic is dependent on the extraction
and use of dirty fossil fuels. So it’s a combination. But I absolutely believe that
the restructuring of our laws to focus on prevention
and anti-degradation first will help fuel the
better daily decision making that will also help us
in environmental protection. So a lot of– we can
all make better choices every single day. But we can not let the
devastation of our environment at the foot of the people. We have to lay it
where it belongs– with the regulators,
and the legislators, and the industrial
operators, and the developers that have set us so on
this devastating path and continue to do so every day. Yeah? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MAYA VAN ROSSUM:
So the question is if we force this
anti-degradation approach to decision making, what’s going
to be the impact on industry, and both their
operations in the US or whether or not they’re
going to outsource to outside of the US? A couple of things. First off– first off, we
have to remember no matter what anti-environmental
legislators and regulators like to tell you, a healthy
environment is vitally important for a healthy economy. Absolutely 100%– it’s been
proven time and time and time again. So when we find a way
to advance our business goals, our industry
goals in a way that protects the environment
at the same time, we allow the achievement of
those industry and business objectives and we allow the
protection of the environment at the same time. You can do both. In every single instance,
you can do both. Now, if you look at energy,
just because we’re talking about energy and you go
back to energy, it may mean that the coal
companies and the frackers can’t operate anymore because
I absolutely believe you cannot engage in fracking and protect
the people’s right to clean water, clean air, and
a healthy environment. But it doesn’t mean that
you can’t create energy. When you’re looking big picture,
big scale at that community level, there are many,
many, many, many other ways to create energy
that aren’t dependent upon dirty fossil fuels. We have clean and renewable
energy options available today. And, in fact, when
you look at energy, like in so many other
business contexts, if you invest in that
clean energy option, not only are you able to
create all of the energy people need to live
their lives here in the United States of
America, but you actually create more jobs. These are jobs that are
more accessible to a wider variety of people. And it is demonstrated
that with these jobs, there is a greater capacity
to come in at an entry level position and sort of move
up the chain of command to a higher level
of responsibility consequently and
higher pay rate. And, in fact, there’s
so much research to show that for every
million dollars invested in clean energy options
versus dirty fossil fuels, you create three to five
times the number of jobs and you protect people’s
lives at the same time. If you look at
residential development and how even business
development– if you look at development projects
on the landscape– if you engage in
development that’s protective of the
environment, it tends to save money for the
developer on the front end, and on the back end, they
end up with a more beautiful and environmentally
sustainable and protective development project. But they also end
up with a project that demonstrably sells more
quickly and for a higher price tag. So they save money
on the front end and they make more money
more quickly on the back end. That’s good for jobs that’s
good for the local economies. Now, you are probably
going to have some industries that are going
to threaten to move overseas. And maybe you will have
some industries that are going to move overseas. But as advancing
business and industry in a way that is protective
of the environment becomes a more accepted and
desirable aspect of the US culture, I think that you
will see that less and less because industry– there are many industries– they want to do
things the right way, but they live in
a culture that’s not supportive or
approving of that, so we start to
change that culture and start to bring things back. And then, also,
fundamentally, I just want to say we’re
not going to be able to gauge everything–
you know, dictate everything everybody does. But we can dictate what
we do as a community, as a culture to advance
environmental protection. And I don’t care
what is the argument of the industrial
operator about why we need to let them get away
with pollution and devastation and degradation. I don’t care what
their argument is. Their argument can’t win the
day because very, very literally on this side of
the argument, there are people who are very
literally losing their lives. They are getting sick and dying. They are losing their children. They are losing their sisters. They are losing their mothers. They are losing their
fathers and their friends. Maybe they are literally losing
them to disease and illness and cancer, or
maybe they’re just losing some aspect
of them, like they have that diminished
ability to learn. There’s so much to show how
air pollution is diminishing the capacity of
children to learn, which means they can’t have
better quality lives and better quality jobs down the road. And if we don’t have smarter
people here in the United States of America, we will
all suffer because we all need smart people to help
advance all the good things that we need here in the US– people being as smart as
they possibly can be, right? It is never OK. It is never OK to succumb
to an argument that says it’s OK for that
child to lose their life so that somebody
over here can have a job because, the
truth is, we can create that job some other
way that protects that life at the same time. And we have to be real about
environmental degradation and that it really is
very literally that stark a choice in in too
many circumstances. So we are at the end
of our time, I think. Do you want to do the drawing? Great. AUDIENCE: Forgive
me if I pronounce your name wrong, whoever wins. The winner is Chloe Gavigan. All right! [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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