Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Port Townsend Washington Residents have a CONSTITUTIONAL right to Clean Air, Clean Water and to live in a non-toxic environment.


"The Constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment"

"Do people have a right to clean air, safe drinking water, and a healthy environment? Fifty years ago, the concept of a human right to a healthy environment was viewed as a novel, even radical, idea. Today it is widely recognized in international law and endorsed by an overwhelming proportion of countries. 

Even more importantly, despite their recent vintage, environmental rights are included in more than 90 national constitutions. These provisions are having a remarkable impact, ranging from stronger environmental laws and landmark court decisions to the cleanup of pollution hot spots and the provision of safe drinking water.1
Environmental rights and responsibilities have been a cornerstone of indigenous legal systems for millennia.2 Yet the right to a healthy environment is not found in pioneering human rights documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), or the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966). 
Society's awareness of the magnitude, pace, and adverse consequences of environmental degradation was not sufficiently advanced during the era when these agreements were drafted to warrant the inclusion of ecological concerns.
The first written suggestion that there should be a human right to a healthy environment came from Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, published in 1962:
If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantees that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.3
Similarly, in her final public speech before dying of cancer, Carson testified before President Kennedy's Scientific Advisory Committee, urging it to consider
a much neglected problem, that of the right of the citizen to be secure in his own home against the intrusion of poisons applied by other persons. I speak not as a lawyer but as a biologist and as a human being, but I strongly feel that this is or ought to be one of the basic human rights.4
The first formal recognition of the right to a healthy environment came in the Stockholm Declaration, which emerged from the pioneering global eco-summit in 1972:
Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.5
In the four decades since the Stockholm Declaration, the right to a healthy environment rapidly migrated around the globe. As of 2012, 177 of the world's 193 UN member nations recognize this right through their constitution, environmental legislation, court decisions, or ratification of an international agreement (see Figure 1). The only remaining holdouts are the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Oman, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Brunei Darussalam, Lebanon, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea, Malaysia, and Cambodia. Even among these laggards, some subnational governments recognize the right to a healthy environment, including six American states, five Canadian provinces or territories, and a growing number of cities.6
Regional human rights agreements recognizing the right to a healthy environment have been ratified by more than 130 nations spanning Europe, Asia, the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa, and the Middle East. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, and the European Committee on Social Rights have issued decisions in cases involving violations of this right.
While international law plays a vital role in establishing norms and offering a court of last resort for human rights violations, the reality is that most of the action to protect and fulfill rights occurs at the national level. Within countries, a constitution is the highest and strongest law, as all laws, regulations, and policies must be consistent with it. A constitution protects human rights, sets forth the obligations of the state, and restricts government powers. On a deeper level, constitutions reflect the most deeply held and cherished values of a society. As a judge once stated, “A constitution is a mirror of a nation's soul.”7
Portugal (in 1976) and Spain (1978) were the first countries to include the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Article 66 of Portugal's Constitution states, “Everyone has the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment and the duty to defend it.”8 Since the mid-1970s, 92 countries have granted constitutional status to this right (see Figure 2). Constitutional law experts observe that recognition of environmental rights has grown more rapidly over the past 50 years than any other human right.9
Despite this progress, there is an ongoing debate about the scope and potential utility of the right to a healthy environment. Supporters argue that the potential benefits of constitutional environmental rights include:
  • Stronger environmental laws and policies
  • Improved implementation and enforcement
  • Greater citizen participation in environmental decision making
  • Increased accountability
  • Reduction in environmental injustices
  • A level playing field with social and economic rights
  • Better environmental performance
Critics, on the other hand, argue that constitutional environmental rights are:
  • Too vague to be useful
  • Redundant because of existing human rights and environmental laws
  • A threat to democracy because they shift power from elected legislators to judges
  • Not enforceable
  • Likely to cause a flood of litigation
  • Likely to be ineffective
Is the constitutional right to live in a healthy environment merely a paper tiger with few practical consequences? Or is this right a powerful catalyst for accelerating progress toward a sustainable future? The best way to answer these questions is by examining the experiences of the 92 nations where this right enjoys constitutional status.
Proving a clear cause-and-effect relationship is always challenging in the social sciences. However, new research demonstrates that the incorporation of the right to a healthy environment in a country's constitution leads directly to two important legal outcomes—stronger environmental laws and court decisions defending the right from violations (see Box 1). Evidence indicates that the other anticipated benefits of constitutional environmental rights also are being realized, while the potential drawbacks are not materializing.
Safety Net
In addition to providing an impetus for strengthening environmental laws, the constitutional right to a healthy environment has been used to close gaps in environmental law. Costa Rica and Nepal offer examples of courts ordering governments to enact legislation or regulations that would protect fisheries and reduce air pollution, respectively.16 The courts did not spell out the details of the laws but merely clarified that certain legislation is an essential element of fulfilling the government's environmental responsibilities. In other nations, courts issued carefully crafted judgments that did not compel but rather influenced states to take action (e.g., legislation governing plastic bags in Uganda, public smoking in India, and air quality standards in Sri Lanka).17
Courts are not always willing to fill legislative or regulatory gaps. The Supreme Court of the Philippines, despite agreeing that air pollution from motor vehicles was a threat to health, declined to order the government to convert all of its vehicles to compressed natural gas because it believed this would have interfered with legislative and executive responsibilities.18
Prevents Rollbacks
Another legal advantage flowing from constitutional recognition of the right to a healthy environment is that it may prevent the future weakening of environmental laws and policies (commonly referred to as rollbacks). Courts have articulated the principle, based on the right to a healthy environment, that current environmental laws and policies represent a baseline that can be improved but not weakened.19This concept is called the standstill principle in Belgium and is also recognized in Hungary, South Africa, and many nations in Latin America. In France, the principle is known as the “ratchet effect” or “nonregression.”20

Conclusion

The right to live in a healthy environment 
continues to gain recognition. 
New constitutions incorporating the right to a healthy environment were enacted in Kenya and the Dominican Republic in 2010, and in Jamaica, Morocco, and South Sudan in 2011. New constitutions in Iceland and Zambia, pending formal approval, include the right. A broad coalition of Zimbabwean civil society organizations has called for the drafting of a new constitution with a “justiciable Bill of Rights that recognizes civil, political, social, economic, cultural and environmental rights.”57 In 2012, the UN Human Rights Council appointed an independent expert to report on the universal right to a healthy environment.58
From Argentina to Zambia, something extraordinary is happening. In communities, legislatures, and courtrooms around the world, a new human right is blossoming from seeds planted decades ago. The constitutional right to live in a healthy environment represents a tangible embodiment of hope, an aspiration that the destructive, polluting ways of the past can be replaced by cleaner, greener societies in the future. While no nation has yet achieved the holy grail of ecological sustainability, the evidence indicates that constitutional protection of environmental rights can be a powerful and potentially transformative step toward that elusive goal. As Gus Speth, former dean of the Yale School of Forestry, recently stated, “I am very excited about the move to rights-based environmentalism. Lord knows we need some stronger approaches.”59
Source and More
 http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2012/July-August%202012/constitutional-rights-full.html

Maybe Port Townsend Washington could look into the UN Human Rights Council on the ISSUE of forcing the Port Townsend Paper Mill to STOP spewing toxins into the AIR that Port Townsend Washington residents breath.