By Joseph Bonasia, FloridaRightToCleanWater.org
Some good climate news for a change: A Montana judge has ruled as unconstitutional a Montana law that prohibited state agencies from considering environmental impacts when weighing permits allowing the release of greenhouse gases.
There have been other climate cases in the U.S. brought by young people who don’t want to inherit a dangerously damaged planet from their parents. Those cases, so far, have been unsuccessful. This one, Held v. State of Montana, is different, and there’s a lesson here for Floridians
These young Americans, unlike those living in all but two other states, Pennsylvania and New York, have a constitutional right to a “clean and healthy environment” as declared in a 1972 amendment to the Montana Constitution. They asserted that the law in question violated that right, and the judge agreed.
The state’s attorney had argued that the “issue at the core of this case is a fundamental principle of separation of powers. The power of the state ultimately resides with the people of Montana and the people of Montana are most directly represented by their elected representatives in the Montana Legislature.”
That was a disingenuous statement employed to protect special interests who rig the political system in their favor and against the best interests of the public and future generations.
That harmful policy was the law in Montana because the legislature there is “deeply entrenched with the fossil fuel industry.” Policy experts, The Guardian reports, “say Montana officials have shaped state laws around the financial interests of the energy companies.”
With this victory based on their constitutional environmental rights, these young people have started to “untangle the fossil fuel industry’s grip on local and state government” so they have a better chance of inheriting a healthy planet.
Here in Florida, special interests have a similarly powerful grip on our state government, and we suffer the consequences in the form of red tides, blue-green algae blooms, fecal bacteria contamination, disappearing seagrass and dead manatees.
We know the sugar industry pumps millions of dollars into campaign coffers and then the Legislature passes industry-friendly laws.
We know the sprawl industry had much to do with the notorious “sprawl bill” passed by the Legislature and recently signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
We know the fertilizer industry had much to do with the recent ban on fertilizer bans.
Floridians know this, but we have not been successful in overcoming the stranglehold these industries have on our Legislature and the political process. Here’s the lesson this Montana climate case offers Floridians: With an amendment to our state Constitution establishing a fundamental “Right to Clean and Healthy Waters” for all Floridians, we could.
In his closing remarks to the court, the young Montanans’ attorney said that it’s “worth remembering other times in our nation’s history when the political process didn’t work to protect people’s basic human rights… Time and time again, the political will of powerful majorities was struck down by courts, based on the compelling evidence before them, courageously correcting the injustices thrust on the people.”
In Florida, “All political power is inherent in the people.” That power includes protecting ourselves when the political process isn’t working, and regarding our waters, the process isn’t working. We need to fix it with a constitutional right to clean water.
Approximately 900,000 signed petitions are needed to qualify the proposed “Right to Clean and Healthy Waters” amendment for the 2024 ballot. Registered voters can go to FloridaRightToCleanWater.org to print, sign, and mail the petition. They should get five others to do the same.
A constitutional right to clean water for all Floridians has never been more important. Waterkeeper Emeritus John Cassani says this amendment “may be the last meaningful opportunity to turn the tide on Florida’s rapidly declining waters.”