Green Amendments are self executing provisions added to the bill of rights section of a constitution that recognize and protect the rights of all people, including future generations, regardless of race, ethnicity, tribal membership status, socioeconomics or geography, to pure water, clean air, a stable climate, and healthy environments.
On March 2nd, 2023, a virtual press event was held to spur action for protecting our environmental rights. The event featured a variety of voices sharing their own experiences.
What is Florida’s “Right to Clean and Healthy Waters” Amendment?
“The Right to Clean and Healthy Waters” is Florida’s version of a Green Amendment. Added to the states Bill of Rights (Article 1), this constitutional amendment creates and enforces a fundamental right to clean and healthy waters. It may be used to hold State government officials accountable when by, action or inaction, it permits or threatens harm to Florida’s waters. With the Florida Right to Clean and Healthy Waters (i.e. Florida’s Green Amendment) in place, residents of the state will be more empowered in their environmental advocacy, and when they need to turn to the courts, justices will be empowered to provide them with equitable relief that will stop or prevent such harm, and, in some cases, ensure the restoration of harmed waters.
How does this amendment support the Green Amendment mission?
Although Florida’s amendment focuses only on water, it has been crafted to survive the special legal-political challenges that exist in the state. To ensure that it complies with Florida’s single subject rule regarding state constitutional amendments, the language focuses on how one government branch affects the human right to clean water. It cannot also provide a human right to clean air, a stable climate or a healthy environment, or grant rights to any aspect of nature, without significant risk of being rejected by the Florida Supreme Court. The primary author of the amendment is a retired U.S. Marine Corps judge advocate, and the language was exhaustively researched and vetted by legal experts, including multiple Florida Constitutional Law professors. Those leading this effort do, however, hope to fulfill the Green Amendment objective of reaching all aspects of a right to clean and healthy environments in the future.
What’s the History of this Florida ‘Green Amendment’ movement?
In 2019, groups of citizens from all over the State of Florida convened and organized the Florida Rights of Nature Network (FRONN) to promote a rights-based approach to effective environmental protections. In 2020, nearly 90% of voters in Orange County Florida passed a Right to Clean Water / Rights of Nature charter amendment, making it the largest jurisdiction in the nation with a Rights of Nature law. The state legislature, however, swiftly preempted the authority of local governments to pass rights of nature laws and any laws granting citizens any rights regarding the natural world. The constitutionality of this state preemption is pending more than one judicial review. In order to continue their mission, however, the FRONN board embarked on a citizens’ initiative to amend the Florida Constitution to make it clear and resounding that the condition and health of Florida’s waters, and the rights and interests of Floridians dependent on clean water, were more important than the permitted rights of polluters. It was important to the FRONN board that the drafted amendment not only survive legal review (pre- and post-enactment), but that it had impact in shifting the paradigm and regulatory systems of Florida’s water protection.
Green Amendments For The Generations is pleased to serve as a helpful advisor and partner to this important Florida-specific Green Amendment initiative.
What’s Happening now in Florida?
Florida Rights of Nature Network, and the FloridaRightToCleanWater.org political committee, are leading efforts to amend the Florida State Constitution with a fundamental “Right to Clean and Healthy Waters.” This is a citizens’ initiative and currently an all-volunteer, grassroots operation. To qualify for the 2024 ballot, approximately 900,000 signed petitions must be collected by November 2023. A Florida Supreme Court review will be triggered when 223,000 signed petitions, 25% of the total, are collected. Right to clean water activists are currently collecting petitions and growing the campaign infrastructure throughout the State. The effort has won the support of many environmental, civic, and religious organizations and a growing number of businesses also dependent on clean water.
The “Right to Clean and Healthy Waters” ballot summary reads as follows:
This amendment creates a fundamental right to clean and healthy waters. The amendment may be used to sue State executive agencies for harm or threatened harm to Florida’s waters, which include aquatic ecosystems. This amendment defines terms, identifies affected constitutional provisions in Article IV governing the executive branch, provides for civil action enforcement, allows attorney’s and expert witness fees to prevailing plaintiffs, and provides equitable remedies including restoration of waters.
Full Text of the Proposed Amendment:
Article 1 SECTION 28. Right to Clean and Healthy Waters.—
(a) PURPOSE. Waters sustain all forms of life. Clean and healthy waters protect and promote substantial interests, including human health, safety and welfare, native fish and wildlife, conservation of natural resources, outdoor recreation, aesthetic values, business opportunities, property values, and economic interests throughout the State. Although considerable attention has been given to protect and conserve waters in the State, including Article II, Section 7 of this Constitution and a comprehensive body of State environmental laws and regulations, such attention has not corrected the continuing decline in the condition of waters in the State. The poor condition of many important waters throughout the State has led the people of Florida, in their inherent political power, to create this fundamental right to clean and healthy waters. State executive agencies are instrumental to the effort to protect Florida waters from harm and threatened harm. Consequently, to promote the interests of Florida’s people, businesses, organizations, communities, and economies in clean and healthy waters, this Section provides for equitable remedies against the actions or inactions of State executive agencies that harm or threaten harm to Florida waters, with the goal of clean and healthy waters and the aspiration that waters in the State will one day flourish.
(b) DECLARATION OF RIGHT. The people have the inherent political power pursuant to Article I, Section 1 of this Constitution to create the fundamental right to clean and healthy waters. The people hereby declare this fundamental right, which is indefeasible.
(c) HARM PROHIBITED. It shall be unlawful, and considered a violation of the right to clean and healthy waters, for a State executive agency, as defined herein, to harm or threaten to harm Florida waters by action or inaction, including by regulation, rule, policy, plan, standard, permit, practice including management practice, activity, agreement, memorandum of understanding, order, or by inaction that permits harm or threatened harm about which the State executive agency knew or should have known.
(1) A person, as defined herein, may bring a civil action for injunctive or declaratory relief in a court of competent jurisdiction against a State executive agency for violating this Section. Exhaustion of administrative remedies and notification time periods shall not be required. A plaintiff is not required to allege special or direct injury to state a claim.
(2) Any violation under this Section will be considered de novo. Due to the fundamental nature of this right, to avoid liability where a violation is shown, a State executive agency shall be required to demonstrate that its action or inaction, as described in subsection (c), was necessary to promote a compelling government interest and was narrowly tailored to advance that interest. Where a party’s action or inaction is found to be a substantial factor in a violation of this Section, that party shall be liable for the violation and shall not avoid liability on the basis that the action or inaction of another party or nonparty has also contributed to the violation.
(3) A prevailing plaintiff shall be entitled to appropriate declaratory relief and to such equitable relief as may be appropriate to remedy the violation including, without limitation, injunctive relief to restore waters to the condition that existed prior to the proven violation. In addition, a prevailing plaintiff shall be entitled to reasonable attorney’s and expert witness fees.
(e) DEFINITIONS. For purposes of this Section, the following words and terms shall have the stated meanings:
(1) “Clean and healthy waters” are waters free from harm, or threat of harm, that occurs after the effective date of this Section. Indicators of clean and healthy waters include water quality safe for native fish and wildlife and human recreation, and regarding drinking water sources, safe for human consumption; sufficient habitats, water filtration, and element cycling to support thriving populations and diverse communities of native fish and wildlife; natural flow regimes, to include recharging ground or underground water; and other ecological processes and functions to be intact.
(2) “Harm” means the introduction of pathogens, contaminants, or toxins into waters or the disruption of natural hydrological or ecological processes or functions of waters. This term includes but is not limited to such chemical, biological, or physical stressors to waters that contribute to unnatural water levels or nutrient loads; that remove, fragment, or degrade habitat of native fish or wildlife; that disturb vegetation or soil near the edge of waters; that introduce exotic or invasive species; that obstruct or divert natural flow; that overexploit native species; and that negatively affect the health of humans or of native fish or wildlife.
(3) “Person” means any individual, partnership, joint venture, corporation; any group of the foregoing to include nonprofit organizations; any tribal entity; or any government entity.
(4) “State executive agencies” shall mean the following governmental entities and officers: The Governor; the Cabinet and members of the Cabinet; each State executive officer and State executive department, and each State executive departmental unit described in Section 20.04, Florida Statutes; the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; each water management district; and each officer and governmental entity of the executive branch having statewide jurisdiction or jurisdiction in more than one county.
(5) “Waters” refers to the aquatic ecosystems of aquifers, bays, creeks, estuaries, estuarine systems, lagoons, lakes, rivers, riverine systems, springs, streams, wetlands, intracoastal and coastal waters within the boundaries of the State of Florida and shall include the natural tributaries and artificial waterways which impact these water bodies. This term shall include fresh, brackish, saline, tidal, surface, ground and underground water associated with these water bodies.
(f) OTHER CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS. This Section affects constitutional provisions of the executive branch: Article IV, Section 1 (Governor); Article IV, Section 4 (Cabinet); Article IV, Section 6 (Executive departments); Article IV, Section 9 (Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).
(g) SELF-EXECUTING. Implementing legislation is not required to enforce this Section. This Section is remedial and shall be given a liberal construction to fully effectuate its purpose.
(h) EFFECTIVE DATE. This Section shall become effective immediately upon approval by the electors of Florida.
(i) SEVERABILITY. If any part of this Section, or the application of this Section to any person or circumstance, is held invalid, the remainder of this Section, including the application of such part to other persons or circumstances, shall not be affected by such a holding and shall continue in full force and effect. To this end, the parts of this Section are severable.
To learn more and get involved go to: FloridaRightToCleanWater.org.
- All Faiths Unitarian Congregation
- Blue Wave Broward County
- Broward Climate Alliance
- Broward for Progress
- Broward Young Dems
- Brownie’s Diving
- Calusa Waterkeeper
- Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife
- Collier County Waterkeeper
- Citizens Climate Lobby of Florida
- CDER Rights of Nature Campaign Team
- Democratic Environmental Caucus of Escambia County
- Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida
- Democratic Environmental Caucus of Okaloosa County
- Dixie Crossroads
- Dixie Divers
- Dream Green Volusia
- Earth Action
- Earth Ethics
- Fight 4 Zero
- Fisherman’s Center
- Florida Conservation Voters
- Florida Rights of Nature Network
- Florida Springs Council
- Florida Veterans for Common Sense
- Florida Wildlife Federation
- Force-E SCuba Centers
- Genung’s Fish Camp
- Ichetucknee Alliance
- Indian River Neighborhood Association
- Kayaks by Bo
- Kissimmee Waterkeeper
- Lake Worth Waterkeeper
- League of Women Voters of Florida
- League of Women Voters of Broward
- Miss Mangos
- North Florida Right to Clean Water, Inc.
- Our Santa Fe River
- Pachamama Alliance SWFL
- SWFL Reset Center
- Rights of Water
- Riverside Conservancy Rum 138
- Santa Rosa County Democratic Women
- Sarasota County Council of Neighboorhood Associations
- St Johns County Democratic Environmental Caucus
- St Johns Riverkeeper
- Suwanee River Riverkeeper
- Tampa Bay Waterkeeper
- Temple Solel
- Urban Paradise Guild
- UU Justice Florida Action Network
- Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Lake County
- Veterans for Common Sense
- The Zen Room