New Jersey takes Swift Action on “Green Amendment” in 2024 – Update from Manko Gold Katcher Fox

March 18, 2024

On March 14, 2024, the New Jersey Senate Environment & Energy Committee voted to pass a potentially paradigm shifting constitutional amendment—known as the New Jersey Green Amendment—out of committee. The Amendment seeks to add certain environmental rights and environmental justice obligations to Article I of the New Jersey Constitution. Specifically, the Amendment would recognize a public right “to a clean and healthy environment, including pure water, clean air, a safe climate, and ecologically healthy habitats, and to the preservation of the natural and scenic qualities of the environment.” The Amendment would obligate the State of New Jersey to avoid infringing on those enumerated rights and further to affirmatively serve as trustee of the State’s natural resources for present and future generations.

The New Jersey Green Amendment was initially proposed in 2017, and after receiving a bi-partisan supermajority vote which passed it out of committee in 2018, remained inactive for years. MGKF previously reported on this development. 

In January 2024, Senator Linda Greenstein and Senator Andrew Zwicker re-advanced the Amendment for the legislature’s consideration. During a hearing last week on March 7, 2024, the Senate Committee heard from advocates and opponents of the Amendment, including Franklin Kury (former Pennsylvania Senator), Stephen Englebright (current County Legislator for Suffolk County, New York), Maya Van Rossum (current Delaware Riverkeeper and founder of Green Amendments for the Generations), and Alex Daniel (in-house counsel for the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute). 

There was general acknowledgement, even among those in favor of the Amendment, that the proposed language is very broad and open to subjective interpretation—including the meaning of “pure water” and “esthetic qualities of the environment” (which has since been removed). Anthony Russo (President of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, an organization representing more than 900 members from virtually every business sector) commented that the Green Amendment “does nothing to improve our environment and will only lead to uncertainty, additional litigation and ultimately hurt new and continuing investment in New Jersey,” including as other commenters noted, infrastructure and energy projects.

As noted above, Senator Smith moved the resolution for a committee vote scheduled for March 14, 2024, at which time the committee passed the Amendment out of committee with certain amendments intended to respond to comments received during the hearing. Pursuant to Article IX, paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, the Amendment must receive an affirmative vote from three-fifths of all members of each of the respective houses of the New Jersey legislature, or a majority of same during two consecutive legislative years, before it can be submitted to the public as a ballot question at the general election. Senator Smith noted that parties in favor of the Amendment have a “big job” ahead of them to convince the legislature that this Amendment is needed.

The Amendment is designed to be self-executing, and if approved at general election, would take effect on the first day of the following March. If the Amendment passes, New Jersey will join just three other states with analogous “Green Amendments” – Pennsylvania, New York, and Montana. MGKF will continue to track these developments. In the meantime, if you have questions, feel free to contact Nicole Moshang or Alice Solomon at 484-430-5700.