Environmental advocates in New Mexico are gearing up for the next legislative session in January, where they will aim to pass the Green Amendment for the second time in the New Mexico Senate. The amendment would establish a constitutional right to clean air and water, as well as preservation of the land for the state.
The amendment as presented in the previous session said it would aim to protect “environmental rights, including the right to a clean and healthy environment and the right to the preservation of the environment," which the state would have to enforce.
The idea for this amendment was first proposed by Maya K. Van Rossum. She started Green Amendments For the Generations, a nation-wide organization that works toward passing green amendments in several states.
The amendment was first introduced to the New Mexico state legislature in the previous session last January, but it died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite this setback, Rossum says it is still making great progress in the state.
“In New Mexico actually, in comparison to other environmental legislation, it actually progressed pretty strongly,” Rossum said. “It got stymied, because literally, one person refused, who was the chair of a key committee, to even put it up for a hearing.”
According to William P. Soules, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, the upcoming legislative session is strictly for budget-related matters. However, because this is an amendment, it involves a slightly different process and will still be allowed to be heard and voted on in the session. The main difference between an amendment and normal legislation is that after it passes through both houses, it goes to the public for a vote on the ballot, which would happen in the general local elections in November, and the governor cannot veto it.
Terry Sloan, a board member for Green Amendments For the Generations and director of the nongovernmental organization Southwest Native Cultures, said he believes this is important for the state as a whole, and brings values that Native communities in the state have already been practicing.
“For the Native community, it just further enhances what we already believe in and we already are trying to do to protect Mother Earth,” Sloan said. “It's just another mechanism to get that done in a non-Native community and society.”
Sloan also said that through his work on the citizen-run Sandoval County Oil and Gas Ordinance team, he got a greater understanding of the geological makeup of the state and how devastating an oil spill would be. While this amendment would not eradicate oil and gas companies from the state, it would create the opportunity for more expansive regulations to be put in place.
“It gives us the power to manage that, (and) put in better reporting, better guidance, regulations, laws, etc. … to help monitor those activities,” Sloan said.
Anni Hanna, director of NM Climate Justice, an organization dedicated to raising awareness to environmental movements in the state, said there is, unfortunately, partisanship involved in climate justice but that this amendment would allow a healthy environment to be “a human right.”
“I think that's what's so important about this amendment is that it'll give teeth to actually having a constitutional change so that it's not a partisan issue,” Hanna said.
Some students from the University of New Mexico have come out in support of the amendment. The Leaders for Environmental Action and Foresight collectively wrote in a statement to the Daily Lobo that the amendment will help fight against environmental oppression.
“As a university comprised majorly of minority and frontline communities, we see the effects of the climate crisis in nearly every corner of our community,” LEAF wrote. “We support the Green Amendment as it paves way for protections against environmentally charged oppression.”
Beyond New Mexico, Green Amendments For the Generations aims to see other green amendments pass across the nation, according to its website. This would secure “for all people constitutional recognition and protection of their inalienable rights to pure water, clean air, a stable climate and healthy environments.”
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite