When I ask Mainers if they should have the right to clean water, clean air and a healthy environment, almost everyone says, “Yes, of course.”

But some look at me quizzically. “Aren’t these basic human rights? And don’t we already have them?” they ask.

The answer is, yes and no. Clean air, clean water and a healthy environment are basic to sustaining life. But these environmental rights are not codified anywhere in Maine law.

And that’s the purpose of the Pine Tree Amendment: to add environmental rights to our state constitution. The Pine Tree Amendment is a bill before the Legislature this session (L.D. 489). To become law, It must pass by two-thirds in the House and Senate; and then pass with a majority in a voter referendum.

As an organizer working to pass this important bill, it is gratifying to see growing support from people all over the state. Hunters, fishermen, breweries, restaurants, youth, realtors, developers, health care workers, businesses, educators, students, farmers and faith communities have all expressed their support in testimony and written letters to their state delegations.

Bipartisan support is growing in the Legislature, too. And it should be, because the Pine Tree Amendment protects Maine’s economy. It assures that our natural resources will remain healthy and continue to support the businesses and communities that depend on them. With the Pine Tree Amendment in place, new businesses and developments will take the environment into consideration as they expand and locate here. Maine’s economy will grow with the kinds of business and jobs we want.


Going further, the Pine Tree Amendment makes environmental justice the law of the land. No longer will some communities end up with pollution and waste in their backyards. This is because all people will have the right to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment. This includes the powerful and the powerless, communities large and small, and future generations.

The Pine Tree Amendment has precedence in other states. Montana and Pennsylvania have had environmental rights in their constitutions since the 1970s, and their experience is encouraging. Only five to seven environmental rights cases are brought to court each year in those states. This is because serious environmental harm must be provable for a case to rise to the level of the high court. No lawyer will take on a case that is frivolous or has no chance of winning.

One of the most well-known environmental rights cases involved fracking in Pennsylvania. The state legislature there gave the oil and gas industry the power to locate anywhere, regardless of local zoning. This meant that fracking wells could be located in school yards, public parks and downtown squares. They also gave the industry the power to take land by eminent domain and store toxic wastewater there.

A local citizen’s group called the Delaware Riverkeeper’s Network sued the state, based on their constitutional environmental rights. They won. Local zoning was restored and eminent domain powers for the oil and gas industry were removed.

The Pine Tree Amendment has the power to protect Maine communities, Maine businesses and the Maine economy. Many diverse Maine voices are gathering and demanding that the legislature pass the bill and send it to the voters. You can join them by calling, emailing or writing to your state legislator today.

Susan Inches is an author, educator and environmental advocate. She is the author of “Advocating for the Environment, How to Gather Your Power and Take Action,” now available in bookstores and online. She lives in North Yarmouth.

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