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Be A Better Gardener: Green Amendments for the Generations

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By Thomas Christopher

For Capital Region Independent Media

Contributed photo

Back in late April, I attended an Earth Day celebration where I met a thoroughly remarkable woman, Maya K. van Rossum. Today, I’m going to step back from advice on how to cultivate your garden to profile a movement – “Green Amendments for the Generations” – that she is leading.

This movement, I predict, will have a hugely positive impact not only on your personal landscape but also on countless other aspects of your daily life.

An attorney based in Pennsylvania, van Rossum has served since 1994 as the Delaware Riverkeeper. As she explained to me, that means she is responsible for coordinating a network of advocates who guard the health of that river, which drains 13,539 square miles in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York. 

A principal threat that van Rossum and her colleagues have confronted is the environmental devastation caused by fracking. They had succeeded in securing a temporary ban on fracking within the watershed by 2012 when the fracking industry struck back. Working behind closed doors, industry leaders assembled a bill (“Act 13”) that would greatly loosen public control of their activities in Pennsylvania and succeeded in pushing this through the state legislature and getting it signed by the governor.

Because of its temporary fracking ban, this new law wouldn’t have immediately affected the Delaware watershed, but van Rossum takes an ecosystem-wide view of environmental protection. She discovered that the Pennsylvania state constitution included a clause in its Bill of Rights section, which affirmed that residents had a right to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment. Joining with seven municipalities that were concerned that the new law deprived local communities of the right to regulate fracking within their borders, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network brought a suit before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that charged Act 13 with violating the state’s Bill of Rights. In December of 2013, the plaintiffs won.

Maya van Rossum pointed out to me in a conversation last May that most existing environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Water and Clean Air Acts of the 1970s, essentially took ongoing pollution and environmental degradation for granted. All these laws did was to regulate how and to what extent these harms would be permitted.

Her experience with Act 13 suggested that the language in Pennsylvania’s Bill of Rights was a far more powerful tool for protecting the environment. When van Rossum checked, however, she found that Montana was the only other state with a similar guarantee. She resolved to change that.

First, she wrote a book, “The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right to A Healthy Environment.” Published in 2017, this volume detailed the devastating experiences homeowners have had with fracking and its contamination of the soil and poisoning of the groundwater. She outlined the power for residents she had found in Pennsylvania’s Bill of Rights and urged her readers to join in making sure that their state constitutions included similar protection in their own states’ bill of rights. This book met with favorable reviews and in 2018 won a Living Now Evergreen Awards gold medal as a “world-changing book.”

In 2019, van Rossum built on this foundation to create Green Amendments for the Generations, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting what was becoming a popular movement. Since then, she has traveled the country to meet with local environmentalists who are seeking to adapt the green amendment concept to suit their states.

In 2021, New York state voters passed, by a 2-1 margin, a green amendment to the Bill of Rights in their state constitution. Currently, van Rossum told me, Green Amendments for the Generations is collaborating with 17 other states on similar efforts.

In November 2022, van Rossum published a second edition of her book, “The Green Amendment,” which is expanded to include consideration of environmental racism, the climate crisis, the human health devastation caused by environmental degradation, and the importance of protecting future generations from pollution and environmental harm. I should note that all profits from both editions have gone to support Green Amendments for the Generations.

To listen to my conversation with Maya K. van Rossum, log onto the Berkshire Botanical Garden’s “Growing Greener” podcast at www.berkshirebotanic.org

Be-a-Better-Gardener is a community service of Berkshire Botanical Garden, located in Stockbridge, Mass. Its mission, to provide knowledge of gardening and the environment through a diverse range of classes and programs, informs and inspires thousands of students and visitors each year. Thomas Christopher is a volunteer at Berkshire Botanical Garden and is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including Nature into Art and The Gardens of Wave Hill (Timber Press, 2019). He is the 2021 Garden Club of America’s National Medalist for Literature, a distinction reserved to recognize those who have left a profound and lasting impact on issues that are most important to the GCA. Christopher’s companion broadcast to this column, Growing Greener, streams on WESUFM.org, Pacifica Radio and NPR and is available at berkshirebotanical.org/growinggreener.

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