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Groups Seek Amendment To Guarantee Clean Water

a water drinking fountain

With a new legislative session in New York, environmental groups are calling on state officials to make clean water a priority in 2017.

Environmental Advocates of New York and EffectiveNY have released two online videos of kids affected by pollution.

In one 30-second video, 14-year-old Mikayla Baker, a resident of Hoosick Falls, talks about how people have left her community since the discovery of the chemical PFOA in water supplies. 

“Everyone takes water for granted. You never expected a contamination like that to get into our water,” says Baker.

The campaign is starting with testimonials from Hoosick Falls but is intended to feature youths in communities across New York.

Morgan Pehme is Executive Director of Effective NY.

“What’s going on in Hoosick Falls unfortunately is not an isolated case. We’ve seen it in Newburgh, NY, we’ve seen it on Long Island, we’ve seen it in parts of Erie County, and so guaranteeing New Yorkers a right to clean drinking water, clean air, and a healthful environment, we think, is enormously timely,” said Pehme.

The groups say the contamination in Hoosick Falls and elsewhere makes the case for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to clean water and air, and a safe climate.

Travis Proulx is a spokesman for Environmental Advocates of New York.

“A constitutional right to clean water, to healthy air, to a safe climate, would build a level of proactivity into our state operations that doesn’t exist right now. It would also empower residents, when something does go wrong, the state doesn’t always get it right. And it would empower residents to use the legal system, to use the courts, to be able to say ‘Hey, we have this right and the state’s not doing a good enough job preserving it and protecting it,’” said Proulx.

Pehme hopes the amendment will be part of a proposed Environmental Bill of Rights. He says six other states have similar measures already in place.

“But this is the first push to bring that innovation to New York state,” said Pehme.

The groups also say with new leadership at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under a Donald Trump administration, an Environmental Bill of Rights would strengthen the state’s environmental protections if any environmental regulations are modified.

Travis Proulx says the groups will continue to release videos featuring kids from other affected areas.

“Communities where there are oil trains passing through, fouling the air, etc. And people who have been directly impacted by the lack of a right. And we’re going to be telling their stories,” said Proulx.

The groups are hoping the testimonials catch the attention of state lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is preparing to launch his State of the State tour.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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