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About the Amendment

The People’s Right to a Healthy Environment

 

The Oregon Coalition for an Environmental Rights Amendment (OCERA) is an emerging grassroots movement to amend the Oregon Constitution with a people’s right to a healthy environment. 

 

Why a constitutional amendment? 

A state constitution is the state’s highest body of law. It cannot be overridden, and it cannot be amended without the people’s consent. Fundamental rights are housed in constitutions because they are considered so essential to life and liberty that they must be protected from political interference. Because the people’s right to a healthy environment with clean air, clean water and a stable climate is essential to life and liberty, it is a fundamental right that requires constitutional protection.

 

How would the amendment work? 

The amendment would give public officials better tools to protect the state’s environment. It would compel those officials to elevate substantive environmental concerns (not just process) in state decision making—whether making law, issuing permits or enforcing existing environmental regulations. If officials decline to protect the right when they could have done so, a person could raise the right in civic or environmental advocacy work or enforce the right in a court of law. 

 

Isn’t the state already required to protect and conserve the environment? 

Unfortunately, existing environmental regulations are weak and contain many loopholes. For example, even when an environment is already degraded, polluters may obtain permits to pollute in ‘controlled’ amounts. And even though state actions and projects require environmental impact analyses (often with public comment), those analyses are routinely disregarded in favor of other competing priorities.

 

How can we add this protection to the Oregon constitution?

An amendment to the Oregon constitution must be approved by a simple majority of Oregon voters. There are two ways to get a proposed amendment on the ballot: (1) A referral process: Legislators must approve a proposed ballot measure by a majority vote; or (2) A signature-gathering initiative process: A required number of voter signatures must be gathered according to a detailed state-mandated process. OCERA plans to pursue both processes. For this reason, OCERA has formed a political action committee (PAC). 

 

Is this a new idea? 

No. Three states already have constitutional environmental rights protections: Pennsylvania (1971), Montana (1972) and New York (2021). As of April 2024, New Jersey, California, Hawai’i and others have current pending amendment referrals in their legislatures.

 

What will the proposed Oregon amendment contain?

Model amendment language has been developed in other states. The OCERA legal team is conferring with Our Children’s Trust and other attorneys to determine the precise language with basic elements: (1) a fundamental right to a healthy environment; (2) a clear duty to conserve Oregon’s environment for current and future generations; (3) the ability to be enforced by a person in a court of law.

 

We invite you to join us!

For more information and resources, go to www.OCERAunited.org.

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