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The ‘right to a healthy environment’ is unlikely to get a hearing in Ky. Legislature

A reclaimed coal mine in eastern Kentucky.
Ryan Van Velzer
A reclaimed coal mine in eastern Kentucky.

Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond of Louisville would like to amend the state’s constitution to establish Kentuckians’ right to clean air, water and preserved natural resources.

It’s the third time Raymond’s filed the House Bill 140, and at least the fourth time any legislator has made the attempt. But in Kentucky’s Republican dominated Legislature, it has never received a committee hearing -- the very first step of a bill on its journey to become law.

“I’ve requested them! I’ve requested hearings but I’ve never gotten one,” Raymond said with a laugh.

The bill originated with the nonprofit National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL), and has so far been passed in two states: Pennsylvania and Montana, according to NCEL.

The point of the legislation is to recognize the legal right residents have to a healthy environment. That way the government would be required to recognize it when advancing policies and implementing legislation.

It would also help support residents in disputes with companies and government, particularly vulnerable communities such as low income, indigenous and communities of color that often bear the burden of pollution.

“What it does is create a legal foundation that would give Kentuckians the standing to weigh in on when things are degrading their environment and therefore their health,” Raymond said.

Changing the state constitution creates an additional hurdle for the legislation with a three-fifths majority needed in both chambers, as well as a successful voter referendum.

While the task may appear sisyphean, Raymond said she would continue to offer the bill and engage the public on the issue.

“Young people of both parties recognize the need to do more in terms of environmental protection,” Raymond said. “Hopefully I’m laying the groundwork for future legislators to get this done.

As of Friday, HB 140 had not been assigned to a committee.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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