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Hawai‘i Sen. Gabbard to push for Green Amendment

LIHU‘E — State Sen. Mike Gabbard announced plans to introduce a proposed constitutional amendment that would add environmental rights to the state’s Bill of Rights this legislative session beginning Wednesday.

Gabbard, who represents District 21, which includes Fernandez Village, Ewa, Kapolei, Makakilo and Kalaeloa on O‘ahu, alongside state Rep. Amy Perruso, who represents District 46, which includes a portion of Waipi‘o Acres, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village and Mokule‘ia on O‘ahu, and activist Maya van Rossum, presented the proposed amendment during the monthly Kaua‘i Climate Action Forum virtual meeting on Jan. 11.

“In essence, it’s about malama ‘aina — doing all that we can to preserve and protect our precious paradise that we all call home,” Gabbard said.

If passed, Hawai‘i’s Constitution would grant all people the fundamental right “to clean water and air, a healthful environment and climate, (and) healthy native ecosystems and beaches” by including a new dedicated section in the state’s Bill of Rights.

Article XI of the state constitution already lays the foundation for Hawai‘i’s conservation of natural resources. However, its enforceability is limited to existing legislation. Van Rossum argues by labeling environmental protections a constitutional right, individuals can more easily create a legal argument against acts deemed harmful to the environment.

“Having this higher constitutional entitlement allows us to fill in gaps where the law is failing us, as well as strengthen the laws that aren’t doing the job they need to do to protect them,” she said.

“With a constitutional green amendment, when we believe that there has been a violation of our environmental gaps, we can get immediate access to the courts. We don’t have to find some law that gives us permission to go there. We have a constitutional entitlement — we can go into court and fight for that.”

Currently, three states have implemented similar “Green Amendments” — Pennsylvania, Montana and, most recently, New York, in 2022. Since enacting these
amendments, all three states have seen legal challenges based in environmental rights as ensured by the amendments.

In Pennsylvania, laws supporting fracking, permits for coal mining and woodland destruction, and inaction on contamination sites, have all been deemed unconstitutional as a result of the state’s Green Amendment.

In Montana, drilling contracts and gold mining permits have been rescinded due to the environmental harm those activities would have caused.

For Gabbard’s efforts to succeed, the bill would have to reach a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers and pass the governor’s desk before going to a public vote on the state’s 2024 ballot.

“The people of Hawai‘i will be the ones to make this decision,” Gabbard said, “not the Legislature or the governor.”

Gabbard has introduced bills promoting the adoption of a Green Amendment twice before, in 2021 and 2022. The first attempt passed the Senate but died in the House, while the second attempt failed to pass the Senate — its companion bill in the House also failed.

Still, Gabbard remains hopeful that this iteration of the bill will find success.

“What’s that cliche?” he said. “The third time’s the charm.”

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Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-245-0427 or jhealy@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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