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Commentary Energy & Environment

Opinion: Maryland needs an Environmental Human Rights Amendment

Racial Justice
Pixabay.com photo by Bruce Emmerling.

By Claire Miller

The writer is communications director for the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights.

This is in response to Josh Kurtz’s article on September 28th, “Report details alarming levels of toxins being dumped in Maryland’s waterways.” It is disturbing to hear about the thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals, including PFAS — “forever chemicals” — being dumped in our Maryland waterways and that the actual release may be much higher.

Marylanders are bearing the real human cost to releasing these destructive chemicals into our environment which are linked to increased rates of cancer and disorders that affect human development and reproduction. It’s not just pollution in our waterways. Communities like Curtis Bay, Lothian, Brandywine, and counties including Prince George’s, Calvert, Wicomico, and Worcester are bearing the burden of air and water pollution from power plants, landfills, superfund sites, and industry that is permitted next to residential communities of color.

Enough is enough. Maryland prides itself on its environmental record, yet this report is another example of where Maryland’s environmental laws and policies are failing the Maryland public. Where was the oversight and enforcement of permits to prevent the thousands of toxic pollutants from being dumped?

With the Supreme Court actively working to reduce the number of waterways being protected, Marylanders are even more dependent on action at the state and local level to protect the health of the waterways that we depend on for drinking water, a healthy habitat for the seafood we eat and the recreation we all need and deserve

There is a better way to ensure oversight and enforcement happens. It’s called the Environmental Human Rights Amendment. It would give the state and local governments a constitutional obligation to protect Maryland’s air, water, lands, wildlife and ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. A constitutional obligation elevates the role of the state and its agencies to be protectors of the waterways and to ensure decisions they make do not infringe on this right.

It’s time to update our expectations for how our shared natural resources are managed. Marylanders need the state and its agencies to step up to protect the health of our waterways upon which our human health depends. The UN General Assembly recently recognized a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right in July with an expectation that countries and sub-nationals would implement this right in treaties, constitutions, environments and laws. It’s time for Maryland to make the right to a healthful environment a constitutional right.