Law Journal: As Bid to Place Environmental Protection in NY Constitution Gains Steam, Backers and Foes Say It Could Spur Litigation

Lawmakers in New York passed a series of bills Tuesday aimed at protecting the state’s environment and the health of its residents, including the first step to a constitutional amendment that could have major legal implications for companies labeled as polluters.

The constitutional amendment, which wouldn’t become law until 2022 at the earliest, could open the door to litigation against companies who are accused of polluting the state’s environment in New York, said state Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland, who sponsored the measure.

“We’re adding 15 words to the state constitution to make it simple, to say, clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment have to come first,” Carlucci said. “This would give another tool to people that have been harmed by the creation of a project or by polluters that are not really considering the environment first.”

The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, an advocacy group that seeks to cut down on litigation, warned that the amendment could lead to a flood of lawsuits that would overwhelm the state’s courts. That litigation could be targeted at local governments and municipalities, who would have to front a legal defense, said LRANY Executive Director Tom Stebbins.

“Similar legislation has been rejected in other states due to the burden increased litigation will place on municipalities and government entities. Moreover, costly lawsuits filed against environmental permit holders will delay critical infrastructure projects including clean energy and climate resilience projects,” Stebbins said. “There are ways to provide a clean environment to New Yorkers. This is not one of them.”

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