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PA’s Environmental Rights Amendment Celebrates 50 Years


Pennsylvania Constitution | Article 1, Section 27

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.

Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.

As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

Join WITF, StateImpact Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation for a free virtual documentary screening and panel discussion in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment. Tuesday, May 18 at 7pm.

Added to the Pennsylvania constitution in 1971, the amendment protects the right to clean air, pure water, and enjoyment and preservation of our natural environment for generations to come.

Watch clips tracing the history and impact of the amendment from the WITF original documentary Straight Talk: The Ralph Abele Story and the StateImpact Pennsylvania original documentary Generations Yet to Come: Environmental Rights in Pennsylvania.

After the screening, StateImpact Pennsylvania reporter Rachel McDevitt will lead a panel discussion about the lasting legacy of this groundbreaking legislation and its continued relevancy today.

Panelists include:

  • Cindy Dunn – Secretary, PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
  • State Sen. Franklin Kury
  • Rafiyqa Muhammad – Harrisburg Environmental Advisory Council, PA DEP Environmental Justice Advisory Board
  • Emma Olney – Governor’s Youth Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation & Wildlife Leadership Academy Conservation Ambassador
  • Sofia Portillo – Climate Justice Youth Advocate with CASA, a working class, Latino, and immigrant rights organization

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About Straight Talk: The Ralph Abele Story
Ralph W. Abele’s “Resource First” philosophy helped protect and conserve the Commonwealth’s waterways and aquatic life. As longest serving Executive Director of the Fish & Boat Commission, Abele is credited with modernizing the Fish & Boat Code, championing PA’s Environmental Rights amendment and much more. Legislation is passed regularly in the State Assembly, but a state constitutional amendment is rare as it takes a tremendous amount of statewide support from a broad representation of citizens and legislators. Once Ralph’s Joint Legislative Committee had proposed a “Conservation Amendment,” Ralph took it upon himself to build the needed support to get it passed. Working with Senator Franklin Kury and Department of Forests and Waters Secretary Maurice Goddard his tireless efforts resulted in Article 1, Section 27 getting passed by both the House and Senate and approved as a voter referendum. Once on the ballot, Ralph’s efforts to garner public support paid off with a tremendous majority of voters approving it.

About Generations Yet to Come: Environmental Rights in PA
Pennsylvania is one of only a few states to recognize environmental quality as a basic civil right—much like the U.S. Constitution protects the right to free speech and freedom of religion. Fifty years ago, a young legislator named Franklin Kury wanted to guarantee Pennsylvanians the right to clean air and water. Working with other environmental advocates, he got Article 1, Section 27 amended to the state constitution in 1971. For decades, the amendment was largely ignored. But things are changing. As fracking transformed Pennsylvania’s rural landscapes, it’s unexpectedly led to a shift in the legal landscape, too. Two recent state Supreme Court decisions dealing with natural gas drilling are breathing new life into the amendment.

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