Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

Billions of dollars of oil and gas money that’s flying out of the Permian Basin have made New Mexico the number two petroleum-producing state in the nation next to Texas. As our coffers are filled with black gold, the PR from the Oil and Gas industry (O&G) reminds us that we’re pretty much skint without them. Let’s not talk about “Boom or Bust.” Residents of the Land of Enchantment must make a choice if what’s in our wallet is more important than the health of our people and future generations of this magnificent state.

The Fathers of the Constitution guaranteed us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Maya K. van Rossum, the “Mother” of the Green Amendment, believes securing a constitutional right to pure water, clean air, a stable climate and a healthy environment for all people, including future generations, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or income is just as important.

The Paper. recently spoke with van Rossum, an environmental lawyer, founder of the Green Amendment movement and author of Green Amendments For The Generations. We discussed her vision and what she learned when passing a Green Amendment in Pennsylvania that can help New Mexico clean up its environmental issues.

“Our laws fundamentally fail us because it’s all about accepting and permitting pollution, not preventing it before it happens. The Green Amendment totally flips that legal regime,” van Rossum said. “It has to be about preventing harm first, not just accepting it and managing it. If we can get this in New Mexico—what an inspiration for the rest of the country.”

In 2013 van Rossum teamed up with seven municipalities to challenge a very pro-fracking law that had been passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature and signed by the governor.

“Fracking was already happening in Pennsylvania, inflicting devastating consequences on communities and the environment. We learned that the fracking law was literally written by industry leaders themselves. The Legislature at that time was, and is still today, very much in the pocket of the industry.”

The law van Rossum challenged included automatic waivers from environmental protection standards and preempting local zoning authority for the fracking industry.

While exploring legal options, van Rossum recognized a long-ignored environmental rights amendment in the Pennsylvania constitution that contained essential elements she now defines as a “Green Amendment” and set out to try to overturn 42 years of bad precedent. A key argument was that the provisions, plus some others, should be declared unconstitutional because they would violate the environmental rights of the people of Pennsylvania. 

“In December of 2013, we got a legal victory out of a very conservative Pennsylvania Supreme Court that declared the provisions that we were challenging to be unconstitutional, because they would violate that long-ignored environmental rights amendment,” van Rossum explained. 

Van Rossum began to look at every state constitution across the nation and at the unique qualities of Pennsylvania’s amendment. Montana was the only other state with an amendment that had this same highest power for the people. 

Van Rossum embarked on a journey to get a Green Amendment in every state across the nation and at the federal level. She started talking to anybody who would listen to her anywhere. “People really started to see the power of what we had accomplished in Pennsylvania and also the power of what could be accomplished everywhere,” she said. 

“The National Green Amendment movement is sort of my baby, and I want to make sure that people benefit from the knowledge and experience I have,” she explained. “It is very easy for somebody to knowingly or unwittingly derail it and undermine it.” There are 12 states currently working on Green Amendment proposals.

Van Rossum’s first talk in New Mexico was in August of 2019 for Indivisible Nob Hill, now Indivisible Albuquerque. The message resonated with everybody that heard her. The Green Amendment movement was off to the races in the Land of Enchantment.   

“I met with Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Bernalillo), and she instantly saw the power of it.” Lopez and state Senator Bill Soules (D-Doña Ana), Senator Harold Pope Jr. (D-Bernalillo) and Representative Joanne Ferrary (D-Doña Ana) were champions of the Green Amendment during the 2021 legislative session. The Judiciary Committee did not ultimately hold a hearing on the Green Amendment last session. 

Support for a state constitutional Green Amendment has been growing, however, and van Rossum is back again this session with 25 cosponsors—and counting—for the upcoming legislative session. 

The Green Amendment doesn’t say you can’t frack. It states that, whatever your industry is, you have to advance it in a way that creates a sustainable environment.

“O&G is an industry that is very literally going to kill the children with the pollution that they claim they want to educate. You want to educate our children, not devastate their future,” van Rossum said. “So many economists that are looking at the O&G industry clear-eyed are saying this is really a Ponzi scheme, because they’re not able to make money. They are not economically sustainable. They’re sustainable because they keep getting people to invest in them.”

Van Rossum said there is a strength in the Green Amendment that you won’t get anywhere else except in constitutional language that’s properly written, placed and framed. “That’s what the legislators are proposing in New Mexico. They’re not just signing their name to this because it sounds good. They really believe in it passionately. Such powerful champions, all of them,” she said. 

Van Rossum and Senator Lopez will be speaking about the power of the Green Amendment and how it will protect New Mexico’s environment in a way no other legislation has before at an event sponsored by Representative Tara Lujan and Representative Joanne Ferrary at the Jean Cocteau Cinema on December 18. For tickets to the limited seating event, visit bit.ly/NMGAEvent.