Some environmental groups like to raise money, hire lawyers and delay or even halt the actions of public representatives they don’t like. Now groups would like a New Jersey constitutional amendment to make just about every action susceptible to such lawsuits.

It should be called the right to endless environmental litigation, but it’s being promoted as a right to clean air and water.

New Jersey already has some of the toughest environmental laws in the nation. Between the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, air and water quality in the state have improved dramatically the past 50 years. That has been achieved at considerable cost and a substantial regulatory burden on many parts of the economy — and has been worth it.

Nonetheless, the groups and legislators they support want to elevate a right to an indefinable condition of air and water to the same level as freedom of speech, of religion, of private property and from unreasonable searches and seizures.

A representative of one of the groups pushing for the ability to sue over this imagined right, the Delaware Riverkeeper, said the lawsuits it enabled would give citizens and groups the ability “to take action when government officials get it wrong.”

Since almost every state action with a physical component could be interpreted as affecting air or water quality in some way, however infinitesimal, they could be tied up by environmental lawyers.

For example, requiring low-bid prices for construction work, energy supply or even mobile senior services could be challenged in favor of choosing suppliers based on the lowest emissions instead of cost. A lot of projects and improvements could simply be stopped.

The bill proposes a “right to a clean and healthy environment, including pure water, clean air and ecologically healthy habitats, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic qualities of the environment.”

Really? Most of those words represent subjective judgments, and ones that frequently change as scientific understanding advances. Yet the proposal would require that the state “not infringe upon these rights, by action or inaction.”

Presumably the New Jersey Supreme Court would find the language of this constitutional amendment much too broad to be legally enforceable.

Perhaps lead sponsor Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Bergen, and his allies see the threat of this rights amendment as a way to shake down further the remaining businesses and developers in the state. Opposition to it already has been announced by the New Jersey Builders Association, the N.J. Chamber of Commerce, the N.J. State League of Municipalities and the Chemistry Industry Council in New Jersey.

The proposal as written is deceptive, not legitimate. It does not represent an aspiration to even better air and water quality. It is a bid by environmental groups to get a litigation veto over actions by the public and their representatives that they oppose. It cleared the Senate Environment and Energy Committee last month. It should advance no further.

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