Constitutions and Environmental Values

Montana’s constitution strives to guarantee, “the right to a clean and healthful environment”. This promise is hard to keep.

What is clean? What is healthful? Lack of clear definitions breeds confusion. No wood stoves in neighborhoods would satisfy some. No walking on forest lands would satisfy others. No automobile pollution, hence no automobile use, might fall under this far-spread penumbra.

How clean is clean enough? The problem of extent is not addressed in Montana’s constitution. Litter along streams left by anglers could stipulate blanket denial of access if a demand for cleanliness is taken to the farthest extent.

Should economic limitations be allowed to restrain environmentalist’s demands? Should all school and health funding be re-directed to environmental cleanups? Who decides which environmental cleanups and preservations are most valuable?

Taken strictly, there would be no room for human habitation or activity within Montana’s borders. Then it would be a “state of nature,” satisfying observers gawking from a spaceship down, but no in-dwellers.

This open-ended, overarching, grandiose clause gives lawyers, partisans and factions ample latitude to challenge almost any human or legislative action.

Vague promises foment confusion and rancor. Legal fees mushroom. Bureaucracies flourish. Property rights dwindle.

Everyone wants cleanliness and the preservation of natural splendor. That’s universal. Yet paucity of definitions, and failure to establish priorities, makes applying this constitutional E-whim ambiguous.

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