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Foss: An environmental bill of rights for New York

Foss: An environmental bill of rights for New York

Foss: An environmental bill of rights for New York
Photographer: Gazette file photo by Patrick Dodson

Now that I'm a parent, I'm starting to think like a parent. 

This means I take my son into consideration when trying to reach a decision or determine how I feel about something. It means I'm more aware of my surroundings -- of potential hazards such as loose dogs and speeding cars. 

Of course, not all hazards are visible to the naked eye. 

Poor air quality, poor water quality -- we can't always see these things, but they take a toll on the health and well-being of a community. 

When children grow up in neighborhoods where the air quality is poor, they are more likely to suffer from asthma. Water filled with pollutants, be it raw sewage or dangerous chemicals, can make people sick. 

These invisible hazards explain why good-government and environmental groups are pushing to add an Environmental Bill of Rights to the New York state constitution. 

The bill, which has passed the state Assembly, is pretty simple: "Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment." 

The sentiment is easy to agree with -- of course we should have access to clean air and water -- but also quietly revolutionary. 

Should this language be enshrined in the state Constitution, it will be harder to excuse or justify or just plain ignore the environmental hazards contaminating far too many communities throughout the state. 

Cleaning the state's waterways and reducing the amount of pollution spewed into the air will come to seem more urgent. 

Priorities will shift, as state and local governments work to ensure that every resident of New York lives in a healthful environment. Problems once deemed too expensive to fix or solve will finally be addressed. 

Just last week, New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli issued a report that suggests that contamination of the state's waterways from untreated sewage and stormwater is extensive. 

Wouldn't it be great to live in a state where this kind of pollution was a thing of the past, rather than a common occurrence? 

A constitutional right to clean air and water won't fix the environmental hazards that already exist.  

But it will help change the way we think about pollution, from an unfortunate fact of life to a problem that must be solved. 

Those who oppose the bill will focus on the cost of cleaning up the state's air and water, but the status quo carries a cost, too. 

I want my son to grow up in a world that's cleaner and healthier than the one I grew up in. 

An Environmental Bill of Rights would help make this world a reality. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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