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New Mexico: A Leader In Protecting Environmental Rights?

Commentary: A new vision for environmental protection is taking hold in New Mexico.  Legislators and leaders are proposing a constitutional Green Amendment that will recognize and protect the rights of all the people of the state, including future generations, to clean air, pure water, a stable climate and healthy environments.

New Mexico, like other states, guarantees constitutional protection for the rights to free speech, freedom of religion, trial by jury, and to bear arms; it does not recognize and protect rights to clean water and air, and healthy environments.  While New Mexico’s Article XX Section 21 declares “protection of the state’s beautiful and healthful environment” to be of “fundamental importance to the public interest, health, safety and the general welfare,” it does not actually provide enhanced protections for the environment.  By its terms the provision simply invites the state’s legislators to pass environmental laws but it does not require those laws to be truly protective, nor does it allow environmental rights to be constitutionally defended by the people of the state when government action results in infringement.

With passage of the constitutional Green Amendment (Senate Joint Resolution 3) being proposed by Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Senator Bill Soules, along with Representative Joanne Ferrary and growing support from other key legislators, New Mexico is poised to be at the forefront of a new national movement calling for passage of constitutional amendments that recognize environmental rights.  As detailed in The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right To A Healthy Environment, only two states in the nation recognize and protect environmental rights at this highest level: Pennsylvania and Montana.  New Mexico is among the states vying to become the third.

The current focus of state environmental laws--to document and permit environmental pollution and degradation rather than prevent harm in the first place--has allowed communities across the state to be harmed.  New Mexico has the most extreme water scarcity in the nation with communities increasingly in danger of “day-zeroes” when taps will run dry.  Water contamination by Perfluorinated chemicals (PFC) is making affected New Mexicans sick, forcing dairy farmers to shut down operations rather than sell PFC contaminated milk, and dropping the resale value of impacted properties.  Air pollution is increasing the risk for Native American communities of contracting COVID-19.   And environmental racism is forcing Indigenous communities and communities of color to live in or near environmental sacrifice zones.

Healthy water, soil and air is essential for supporting healthy lives. Tourism is the second largest industry in New Mexico, generating over $6 billion of annual economic benefit and generating jobs, sales, profits and tax revenues for the state.  When the natural environments of the New Mexico are sacrificed to pollution and degradation everyone in the state loses.  

It’s time for transformational change to protect New Mexico’s environment and create true environmental justice for all communities. It’s time for a New Mexico Green Amendment