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Maine rejects ‘healthy environment’ amendment


A proposal to amend Maine’s constitution to mandate the “right to a healthy environment” has failed to advance in the state House of Representatives, amid concerns that the proposal would impact roadway and other infrastructure projects.

The proposed “Pine Tree Amendment” calls for putting a question on the November ballot asking voters to amend the constitution to declare that Mainers “have the right to a clean and healthy environment and to the preservation of the natural, cultural and healthful qualities of the environment.”

“The state shall conserve, protect and maintain the state’s natural resources, including, but not limited to, its air, water, land and ecosystems for the benefit of all the people, including generations yet to come,” the proposal reads.

But the measure, which was approved by the state House of Representatives by a vote of 77-59, failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed.

The House’s rejection of the measure doesn’t necessarily doom it. The state Senate could still take it up, which would – if approved with a two-thirds margin – keep the proposal alive. As of Wednesday, the Senate had not scheduled a vote on the legislation.

Backers of the plan argued that protections were necessary to hold the state government accountable for protecting “fundamental” environmental rights of clean air and water.

“This is how we protect Mainers and the natural resources that our economy will rely on for generations to come,” Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, the bill’s primary sponsor, said in recent testimony. “I’m done playing games in Augusta. This is what we need if we are going to protect ourselves.”

Republican lawmakers argued during debate of the bill that the amendment wasn’t necessary because the state already has strong environmental laws on the books.

The measure was opposed by the Maine Municipal Association and Maine Chamber of Commerce, which argued in previous testimony that the proposal’s “vague wording” would open up cities and towns to civil lawsuits from interest groups, businesses and citizens.

“By enshrining environmental protections in the constitution, and elevating them above the current statutory framework, this would lead to one outcome – a more litigious regulatory environment at the state and local level,” Ben Gilman, the chamber’s attorney, said in recent testimony.

The Maine Department of Transportation opposed the plan amid concerns that the changes could block roadway upgrades, bridge repairs and other infrastructure projects if environmental groups file legal challenges against those projects over concerns about water and air quality.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State’s office said it would need an additional $172,000 for administrative costs to put the question before voters in the November elections.

Supporters of the plan pointed out that several states – including Montana, Pennsylvania and New York – have enshrined the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions.

Last year, Maine became the first state in the nation to enshrine a “right to food” in its constitution after voters overwhelmingly approved the Question 3 referendum.

The measure amended the constitution to declare the “individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to food, including the right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being.”

Supporters say the move would promote locally produced food products and improve consumer health and safety.

This article was originally posted on Maine rejects ‘healthy environment’ amendment

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