by guest blogger Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper
Bernie Sanders, what is your position on ensuring people have a right to get a healthy glass of water out of their household faucet, one free of industry contamination and toxins?
Hilary Clinton, do you agree children have a right to a healthy breath of fresh air free from pollution that won’t induce asthma attacks?
Jeb Bush, do you agree that businesses and workers who depend upon healthy rivers and environments should be respected and protected?
Rand Paul, do you agree that people should have a right to preserve the sanctity of their homes and properties and not be forced to leave because of a toxic spill or an explosion from a pipeline or nearby industrial complex?
Ted Cruz, should industries that cause earthquakes in our communities be allowed to continue despite the damage and dangers they cause?
Marco Rubio, do you believe that corporations have a greater right to use cancer-causing chemicals in their operations than kids have to live full and healthy lives?
Our current presidential candidates spend a lot of time talking about protecting our rights to free speech, to bear arms, to religious freedom, and to use our property as we see fit. They talk about jobs, tax incentives for the corporations, and the top 1 percent in our nation. But they spend very little time talking about our right to a clean and healthy environment, which is necessary to support healthy lives, sustainable jobs, effective children’s education, enduring energy supplies, and good health.
Given how broadly and deeply pollution and environmental degradation affects us all, how is it that we allow our politicians to avoid these kinds of questions?
Every one of us knows someone who has been impacted by environmental degradation, suffering illness, flooding, reduced property values, the stress of perpetual industrial noise, stinky air, the loss of a favored swimming spot, or a case of childhood cancer or asthma….
In New Jersey, communities are losing their healthy drinking-water supplies to perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) contamination by local industrial corporations, most likely a local plastics company.
In Pennsylvania, shale gas extraction—drilling and fracking—is emitting toxic chemicals that are being linked to increased illness in surrounding communities, everything from nosebleeds, skin irritation, hair loss, and burning to sinus problems, and residents are being exposed to cancer-causing contaminants and pollution.
In Oklahoma, where earthquakes used to be a relative rarity, there were 585 quakes in 2014, including 15 that measured over 4.0 on the Richter scale. These earthquakes are being closely linked to industrial operations associated with fracking.
In states across the nation, pipelines are taking (through eminent domain and strong-arm tactics) public and private lands and subjecting communities to:
- The threat, fear, and reality of pipeline explosions or leaks. (From 1986 to 2012, more than 500 people have been killed with over 4,000 injured from pipeline accidents. They’ve also cost nearly seven billion dollars in property damages.) That averages out to 173 people a year injured and/or killed and $269 million a year in damage.
- Devaluation of property.
- Enduring degradation of the natural environmental.
- Loss of agricultural crop production and to a variety of jobs and business operations.
(To see a recent pipeline explosion captured on video, click here.)
We all need to know from our political candidates where they stand on citizens’ rights to a healthy environment.
In Pennsylvania and Montana, strong constitutional provisions have recognized that the right to life, liberty, happiness, good jobs, and healthy economies is dependent upon the protection of people’s environmental rights.
There’s currently an effort afoot by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network to advance the passage of strong environmental rights provisions in every state and to advance the call for constitutional rights at the federal level, too.
But in every instance, legislative leaders will be needed to advance the call for and passage of these kinds of constitutional provisions. And so, we need the right people in office—leaders who value our right to life more than they value a corporation’s desire for profits.
And thus, every political candidate for office—from the local town council to those running for the Oval Office—should be required to answer these important questions. We deserve to know before voting whether a candidate supports constitutional provisions that recognize and ensure people’s rights to pure water, clean air, and a healthy environment.
Here are 3 things you can do to help raise awareness about environmental rights:
1. Speak up and ask questions. If you have an opportunity to ask a political candidate his/her position on the people’s rights to a healthy environment, pure water, and clean air, take that chance to get him/her on the record.
2. Tell your story. For The Generations wants to hear your story: How have you, a member of your family, a friend, or your community been impacted by environmental degradation? Share your story, send pictures—help us at the Delaware Riverkeeper Network spread the word about how decisions and actions that degrade our environment are degrading our quality of life. If you have a photograph or a news clip, please share it on the For The Generations Facebook page at facebook.com/forthegenerations. You can also use the hashtag #ForTheGenerations.
3. Invite your community. If your community wants to learn more about constitutional environmental rights, why they’re important, and how to pursue them in your state, send a message to ForTheGenerations@delawareriverkeeper.org. For The Generations will arrange for a speaker to come to your area. And be sure to download a copy of the Toolkit For Action at www.ForTheGenerations.org.
Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper, and has led the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) since 1994. The DRN is a regional nonprofit advocacy organization that monitors the river and all of its tributaries for threats and challenges, and advocates, educates, and litigates for protection, restoration, and change.