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An amendment to the state constitution would give CT residents legal right to a healthy environment

A playground near the PT Barnum housing complex in Bridgeport, Conn., where residents live surrounded by several pollution sources.
Screengrab/Ryan Caron King
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Connecticut Public
A playground near the P.T. Barnum housing complex in Bridgeport, Conn., where residents live surrounded by several pollution sources.

Connecticut legislators are in the early stages of considering an amendment to the state constitution that would ensure environmental rights are basic civil liberties.

The “Green Amendment” would give each state resident the legal right to healthy air, water and soil. Supporters say it would allow those who claim their environmental rights are being violated to sue the government, but not other private citizens.

“The constitution of this state is about how the state governs. It’s not about private actors,” said Kim Stoner, coordinator of the Connecticut Environmental Rights Amendment Alliance. “You can’t sue your neighbor based on this amendment.”

Amending the state constitution is a lengthy process that requires approval from both lawmakers and state voters. The proposed amendment wouldn’t appear on the ballot until November 2024 at the earliest.

If it passes, Stoner said the amendment would ensure that environmental rights are protected in every level of government decision-making.

“If implemented effectively, the Connecticut Environmental Rights Amendment will increase the focus of the state and local governments on preventing pollution for all people, rather than just on permitting and managing pollution,” Stoner said.

Other supporters also hope the proposal will push local and state leaders to better protect the environment and communities of color, which often disproportionately bear the health impacts of pollution.

“Not only for our sake, but for the sake of future generations, to give them a fighting chance so that they’re not spending the rest of their lives fighting for their lives,” said Kat Morris, founder of the environmental justice group Seaside Sounds. “I think this is one of those choices that could be pivotal in terms of addressing the climate crisis.”

Pennsylvania, New York and Montana are the only U.S. states that have adopted a “Green Amendment”. Nine other states are considering it.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla Savitt focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. Michayla has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that she was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.