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Pennsylvania's Green Amendment For the Generations

March, 2012, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Maya van Rossum the Delaware Riverkeeper, seven municipalities, and Dr. Mehernosh Khan filed legal action challenging Act 13, which was signed into law by Governor Corbett on February 14, 2012.  Act 13 amended the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, and was, without a doubt, an incredible overreach and giveaway to the gas drilling industry. Supportive legislators are quick to acknowledge that the industry helped them write the legislation displacing local zoning and providing automatic waivers for the minimal environmental protections, are among the many giveaways the law provided.

The plaintiffs challenged the new law on the grounds that, amongst other things, violated Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and endangered public health, natural resources, communities and the environment.

On December 19, 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a final in the case Robinson Township, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et al.  v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (2013).  In the plurality opinion written by the Chief Justice of the Court, the justices vindicated the importance and power of the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution; it promised all generations of Pennsylvanians that they will benefit from pure water, clean air and a healthy environment, giving them the ability to defend that right in the courts if it is violated.

The battle to fully define and defend the environmental rights of the People of Pennsylvania continues with important and incremental successes advancing each year.

Important court opinions that continue to advance the right include:

In addition, we are starting to see government officials rely upon the Pennsylvania Green Amendment, Art 1, Sect 27, in decision making.  A great case in point is the decision by Governor Wolf to veto a bill that would have curbed the right of towns and cities to regulate use of plastic shopping bags – when announcing the veto the Governor said that its passage would have violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the PA Constitution.

Article 1 Section 27 Campaign: In January 2019, a coalition of organizations and individuals called the Better Path Coalition organized a campaign to claim this right and tell Harrisburg that it’s time to uphold PA’s Green Amendment and be the climate and environmental champions we need. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, as a proud member of the newly formed Better Path Coalition, worked with our partners to organize events celebrating Article 1, Section 27 of the PA Constitution—a day of action on Sunday, 1/27 and a delivery of this petition to every office in the capitol on Monday, 1/28 with the help of the children whose futures are on the line.  

The events focused on reminding Pennsylvania’s legislators of their constitutional duty to protect environmental rights.  The IPCC report on climate change released in 2018 is dire. We have just 12 years left to address climate change. Meanwhile, industries continue to pollute Pennsylvania’s communities in myriad ways and Pennsylvania’s legislators and governors continue to allow the mass expansion of fracking, a primary source of one of the most dangerous climate changing emissions – methane. Young people from elementary through college age were among those that took the podium and spoke up at a press conference held at the PA Capitol building. Dressed as Dr. Suess’ character The Lorax, these young people then delivered petitions to Governor Wolf and other lawmakers, urging them to uphold Article 1 Section 27, Pennsylvania’s Green Amendment.

The 9,000 petitions delivered demanded that our newly elected representatives and those who returned to Harrisburg uphold Pennsylvania’s Green Amendment, which happens to be one of only two Green Amendment’s in the country. We want elected officials who will lead on climate, take aggressive action against pollution and environmental degradation, and prevent new sources of pollution and degradation from damaging PA communities. The petition read:

You will serve during the period climate scientists agree is the last chance we have to act if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. You will also be charged with taking on threats to our water, air, and environment that have harmed our communities and natural resources, in some cases, for years.

Pennsylvania’s constitution contains the strongest environmental rights amendment in the country. Article 1, Section 27 says “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

We call on every newly-elected official and every elected official who returns to Harrisburg in 2019 to fulfill their Constitutional obligation to uphold Article 1, Section 27 by taking aggressive action to address the urgent environmental and climate challenges that confront us and establishing policies that prevent new sources of pollution from entering the Commonwealth.

A panel discussion about PA’s Green Amendment was held the day before the rally. Hear Franklin Kury, the original author of Pennsylvania’s Green Amendment, as well as Jordan Yeager and Maya van Rossum who were key to the effort that brought it to legal life in 2013, talk about how PA’s Green Amendment came to pass and how it is making a difference today.

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