An activist addresses a constitutional approach to protecting natural resources.
In this debut book, van Rossum shares stories from her decades running a nonprofit organization focused on maintaining the Delaware River as well as accounts from both citizen and professional activists around the country. She paints an optimistic picture—though one that is realistic about ongoing challenges—of the development of constitutionally driven strategies for counteracting and preventing pollution. The volume focuses on the importance of including the right to a clean environment in state constitutions, highlighting successful legal challenges to fracking and mining in Pennsylvania and Montana made possible by clauses in their governing documents. “What would happen if people everywhere began asserting their inalienable right to a clean and healthy environment,” the author asks, “rising up when industry and their political allies trample on that right?” Van Rossum presents a convincing argument for the need for such clauses, using cases from around the country in which the existing legal and regulatory structure has done little to protect farms from fracking, rivers from toxic chemicals, and watersheds from pipelines, with complex topics explained in simple language and a thorough notes section documenting her in-depth research. In addition to examining the legal framework, the author also offers counterarguments for economic concerns about expanded environmental regulations. A concluding chapter provides tactics for readers interested in pursuing constitutional remedies in their home states. Although the prose is occasionally overwrought (“I shuddered at the massive, open-cut wound through the wilderness”), the book succeeds in the many pages in which it allows those whose health and livelihoods have been damaged by pollution to tell their own tales. In addition, the author coherently presents scientific research that clearly shows the harm caused. Van Rossum does not mince words when it comes to describing problems of pipelines, natural gas production, industrial waste, and overdevelopment, but the reader is more likely to feel hopeful than overwhelmed at the work’s conclusion.
An engrossing personal and professional account of fighting for ecological justice and establishing a pro-environment constitutional framework.