Activists rally for a healthy environment amendment. Could it pass in Arizona?

By Zayna Syed | Arizona Republic

Arizona state Sen. Juan Mendez was writing a bill to strengthen water protections in Arizona when he learned about an emerging legal idea that he now believes could provide even stronger and broader protections for the environment. 

The idea came from Maya van Rossum, a lawyer and environmental activist whose organization successfully brought down a pro-fracking law in 2013 using a seldom used “environmental rights amendment” in Pennsylvania’s constitution. The amendment, which is part of the state’s bill of rights, says the people have a right to clean air, pure water and the preservation of the environment. 

Since then, van Rossum has been urging other states to adopt similar amendments. 

Now Mendez wants to amend Arizona’s constitution to recognize the right to a “clean and healthy” environment. The amendment is only three sentences, but would effectively put environmental rights on par with free speech, freedom of religion and gun rights in the state. 

Mendez, D-Tempe, thinks a green amendment could address a range of ongoing issues, including the hot button situation in Oak Flat, where a proposed copper mine has ignited environmental and Indigenous activists. 

The right to a healthy environment is a concept some government bodies across the world have been considering recently.

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