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“Green Amendment” Proposed for Washington State

On January 22, 2024, Representative Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow) introduced a “green amendment” to the Washington State legislature.

HJR 4210 would have added a new section to the Washington State Constitution giving present and future generations ”the right to a clean and healthy environment, including pure water, clean air, healthy ecosystems, and a stable climate,” and would have preserved “the natural, cultural, scenic, and healthful qualities of the environment.”

As a Constitutional amendment, it would be on par with other protected inalienable rights that, unless otherwise specified, protect citizens against violation of those rights by the government. This resolution also specifically requires the government to be trustees of the environment to ensure that future generations have the same rights to a healthy environment as current citizens without further degradation.

The resolution had a public hearing in the Environment and Energy committee of the House, scheduled by Chair Rep. Beth Doglio on January 30. Despite the support of many groups and individuals, it did not get a vote and so did not pass out of the committee, but proponents were heartened by the significant and growing momentum for a green amendment in Washington.  It is expected to get reintroduced in the next legislative session, allowing time to mobilize the public, educate legislators, and potentially amend the language.

The green amendment effort in Washington state has been led by a dedicated coalition of environmental activists working with For The Generations, a group working around the country to get green amendments passed in various states. Learn more about the Washington state green amendment at

Some organizations, such as the Rights of Nature Initiative (RONI), think this could be an opportunity to strengthen the proposed amendment and maximize its potential impact by incorporating “rights of nature” language and extending responsibility beyond state actors. RONI lays out this argument in their article linked here and included below. RONI has recently filed and sponsored a statewide Political Action Committee, Standing for Washington, to support legislation, citizen initiatives and electoral politics around providing rights and legal standing for the environment. Interested in Rights of Nature? Visit and for ways you can help.

Rachel Kurtz-McAlaine, Esq. is co-founder of the Rights of Nature Initiative-


How a Green Amendment differs from Rights of Nature Law

Green Amendments are a monumental step forward for nature, but they are different from rights of nature in that they focus on the rights of citizens to a healthy thriving environment rather than giving the environment its own right to exist and thrive. Green Amendments tend to focus on the government’s duty as a trustee of the environment on behalf of its citizens, while RONI supports including private actors in that duty. Constitutional amendments that were aimed at rights of nature and included the duty of the government and private actors to honor those rights, would be a more powerful and more enforceable amendment.

The Green Amendment Movement:  Seeds of Change

The “Green Amendment” movement originated in the 1970s during the peak of environmental awareness. Recognizing the limitations of existing environmental laws, activists and legal scholars advocated for enshrining environmental rights directly within state constitutions. The first Green Amendment, adopted in Pennsylvania in 1971, amended its constitution to include citizens’ rights to a clean environment and the preservation of natural resources. Other states, such as Montana and New York, followed suit, enacting similar constitutional amendments. Recently, the movement has experienced a resurgence, with additional states considering such amendments.

These amendments, often referred to as Environmental Rights Amendments (ERAs) or “green amendments,” aim to elevate environmental protections to the constitutional level. Each ERA boasts its own unique language, but the unifying thread is the recognition of fundamental rights for citizens, encompassing access to clean air and water, healthy ecosystems, and a stable climate, and emphasizing the state’s duty as a trustee of natural resources.

Inclusion of Rights of Nature Language

We are now at a pivotal moment where the Green Amendment movement should evolve to include the consideration of Rights of Nature language, recognizing ecosystems as legal entities with inherent rights to exist, flourish, and regenerate, and elevating the status of ecosystems, granting them legal standing. This reflects a growing acknowledgment of the interconnectedness of environmental health and the need for comprehensive legal frameworks to address the challenges of the 21st century.

By including rights of nature language in an ERA, the amendment would reflect a shift from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric or biocentric perspective on the environment, acknowledging the intrinsic value and interdependence of all living beings and ecosystems. This aligns with scientific evidence demonstrating the fundamental interconnectedness of humans and the natural world.

Moreover, Rights of Nature language provides a proactive mechanism for environmental conservation by allowing citizens to act as stewards on behalf of ecosystems. When faced with environmental threats, individuals can advocate for the well-being of the environment directly, without the need to prove individual harm. While a green amendment granting rights to citizens would require that the citizen prove the harm to themselves, rights of nature language would merely require proof of harm to the environment only. This not only empowers communities to protect their local ecosystems but also establishes a legal foundation for a more harmonious coexistence between human activities and the natural world.

In addition, consider a situation where individuals are fighting over water rights and are trying to show the harm each has caused the other one, but the water itself should be able to have its rights considered separate from those individuals.

Extending Duty of Environmental Protections to Private Actors

ERAs should unequivocally extend the duty to protect environmental rights to corporations and other private actors, transcending the conventional focus on government responsibility. Environmental degradation often stems from the activities of private entities, and by explicitly including language that mandates private actors to safeguard environmental rights within ERAs, we acknowledge their substantial impact on ecosystems.

Incorporating private entities into the duty framework ensures a more comprehensive and effective approach to environmental protection. It addresses potential gaps in regulation and enforcement by empowering citizens to hold corporations accountable for their actions. Without such explicit language, there exists a risk that private entities may exploit lax regulations or engage in harmful practices, ultimately undermining the objectives of the ERA.

Even if the government takes action to try to enforce their regulations against private actors, the litigation can take decades. If citizens have to first sue the government, then wait on the government to turn around and sue the violators, the environment continues to suffer in the meantime.

While government regulations play a crucial role in safeguarding the environment, they often fall short in addressing the actions of private entities, so including language in ERAs that extends the duty to protect environmental rights to corporations and other private actors is essential. This shared responsibility fosters a comprehensive framework for environmental protection, incentivizes sustainable practices, and encourages a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors.

Moreover, the legal landscape surrounding environmental protection by the government faces challenges, as demonstrated by the recent Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, limiting the authority of the EPA, and the current case being reviewed by the Supreme Court which would limit the Chevron deference, the latitude federal judges give agencies over how to interpret a statute when a dispute arises.

With the Supreme Court shrinking the ability for government agencies to protect the environment, and the threat of politics influencing how various administrations manage natural resources, it has become existential to pass ERAs that grant legal standing to nature itself and allow citizens to sue the government and private actors on nature’s behalf.

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