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Environment

What Is The Proposed Right To Clean Water Ballot Amendment?

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Conservationists have a 5-amendment rights of nature ballot drive going on right now. This is the fourth in a series looking at each of the proposed ballot amendments. Today's story is about the proposed right to clean water amendment.

The proposed right to clean water ballot amendment intends to prohibit pollution of Florida’s water, by recognizing Floridians have a right to clean water, and that water itself has a right to be free from pollution. It also intends to give any resident, nongovernmental organization or government entity of Florida the ability to enforce and defend these rights in court.

Chuck O’Neal is the Chairman of the Florida Rights of Nature Network and he is chairman of the FL5.org political committee. He says that laws protect the rights of corporations, and yet nature has no rights under the law.

"What we're trying to do here with FLfive.org, is to create rights of nature to exist in the case of water, to flow, to be protected against pollution, and to maintain a healthy ecosystem. That way, an individual citizen of the state of Florida can bring in action in defense of waterways within the state." said O'Neal.

O’Neal says the citizens of the state of Florida can vote on a constitutional amendment giving rights to nature, if they can get it on the ballot. Inspired by a similar initiative that passed in Orange County by nearly 90 percent of votes and bolstered by a state legislature seeking to limit local power, the right to clean water is meant to acknowledge that bodies of water in the state of Florida have four fundamental rights: the right to exist, the right to flow, the right to be free of pollution, and the right to maintain a healthy ecosystem. It’s also meant to give the citizens of Florida a right to clean water by having the waterways and waters of Florida protected against pollution, and to bring an action directly against the polluter without having to ask a government agency to do something about it.

"It's direct governance by the citizens of the state of Florida. So it's an empowerment of Florida citizens to get to a point where we have clean water again… I would argue that our water has never been in worse shape in the history of the planet Earth," O'Neal said.

O’Neal added that blue-green algae, red tide, and manatee die-off, among other problems, are major factors in the need for a clean water ballot amendment.

Tish O’Dell, community organizer with CELDF, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, worries the proposed ballot amendment says if any provision is found to impermissibly conflict with federal law, then the provision is severable.

"This gets kind of complicated into the legal stuff. But the Florida DEP is basically standing in place of the US EPA, because they've been kind of deputized by the Federal Government, and so we have this illusion that like the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, if they were enforced, would totally protect the water. And I think all we have to do is think about it. It's been in place for over 40 years and look at the state of the water everywhere, not just in Florida, but in Ohio and all the states," said O'Dell.

Nearly 900,000 signatures will need to be collected by November 30th in order to qualify the Right to Clean Water Amendment for the ballot. To read the full text of the Amendment, visit FL5.org.

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