Franklin Kury Previews Upcoming Book Celebrating 50th Anniversary Of PA’s Environmental Rights Amendment

By John Zaktansky, Middle Susquehanna RiverKeeper

Environmental Rights Amendment, Article I, Section 27--

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people. 

Pennsylvania is one of the only states in the nation in which we have a constitutional right to “pure water,” along with clean air and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.

One of the leaders at the center of the Environmental Rights Amendment to the state constitution-- passed 50 years ago this May-- was Franklin Kury, a Sunbury native who rode a clean streams platform to the first of three terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1966.

“The incumbent House member, Adam Bower, voted against bringing coal companies under the Clean Streams Law. Basse Beck was leading a fight to get that bill approved,” Kury said. “When Bower voted no, Beck said: ‘You run and I’ll be your campaign manager.’ So I ran, and we beat him.”

Beck, as general manager of The Daily Item newspaper in Sunbury, was a major advocate for cleaning up the region’s waterways – writing a regular column under the header “Up and Down the River” to bring awareness to environmental issues.

“I did not realize until later, but Basse Beck was one of the first to challenge the coal and electric power companies on behalf of the environment,” said Kury.

Touting the Clean Streams Act and the Environmental Rights Amendment, Kury admitted that the 1960s offered a sense of awakening among people to environmental issues that made it much easier to push through legislation.

“The year before I ran, the Barnes and Tucker Coal Company in Cambria County let loose a big discharge of coal dirt or waste into the river. They killed the whole West Branch,” Kury said. “As the waste got to Williamsport, the headlines were all about the coal slug hitting Williamsport. When it got to Milton, the Milton paper focused on the coal slug hitting there. When it made it to Sunbury, The Daily Item had headlines about the coal slug in Sunbury.

“People used that river for fishing and boating. When this happened, it upset a lot of people.”

In terms of the Clean Streams Law, original drafts kept coal companies out from its jurisdiction.

“We worked hard to put together a new one,” said Kury. Ultimately, it required “everyone who discharges into the river had to get a permit. That was a big thing, along with requiring state inspections. It led to a comprehensive rewriting of the law.”

Kury later shared his story in the book “Clean Streams, Clean Politics: A Legislative Autobiography of Reflections.”

“The most exciting thing about that book was that the state supreme court found it when they were interpreting the environmental amendment to the state constitution,” he said. “The chief justice found the book and quoted it literally in that case. It was the biggest legal-political success of my life. It was stunning.”

Kury, 84, is following up with a new book, which is due to be released in April to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Environmental Rights Amendment.

“It includes the whole history of how we got the amendment, how it got into the legislature, what Basse Beck did to help move things along,” said Kury. “The book goes on to explain what is going on in the history of the United States, the exploitation of the coal regions, copper mining in Montana and the public awakening of the ’60s.”

Kury’s new book, titled “The Constitutional Right to Save the Planet: The People’s Right to a Healthy Environment,” also takes a look at things since the passing of the state amendment and will include a chart that compares Pennsylvania’s constitution to the other 49 states.

“I personally interviewed people all over the country,” he said. “I flew to California, to Oregon, to North Carolina. I went to Annapolis and Philadelphia. I interviewed a lot of people.”

The book’s nearing completion is something that Kury is very excited about.

“I didn’t think I’d live long enough to do it,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see the 50th anniversary of the amendment, let alone write a book about it. It’s a great feeling.”

As for legislators today, Kury urges them to reacquaint themselves with the laws of the state.

“They have to take the environmental amendment – Article 1, Section 27 – seriously. I don’t think all of them do,” he said. “They have to realize they have an obligation here – you have to put it to work.”

​As for the evolution of threats to our waterways, Kury relayed that he’s noticed a change of source.

“Back then, much of what we dealt with were point discharge. In other words, if you were running a factory in Sunbury or Milton, and you wanted to pour stuff into the river, you did it through a pipe – that is a point discharge,” he said. “Now, we have more fertilizers and other things spread out over acres.”

Kury’s passion for the outdoors began early, growing up along the river near Sunbury, and via Boy Scouts.

“I was a nature instructor at the Boy Scout camp in Union County,” he said. “I was the only guy in the whole troop who thought Bird Study was an easy merit badge.”

He eventually pursued a career in law, opening a practice in Sunbury.

“Basse Beck came to see me looking for legal help on a pro bono basis looking over his Clean Streams bill. I was just a new lawyer in town and wanted to get clients. Beck was a possibility,” he said. “I’d say it turned out pretty well.”

Click Here to listen to the full interview with Franklin Kury from the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Podcast.

Click Here for more information about Franklin Kury and his new book.

Visit the Middle Susquehanna RiverKeeper website for more information on programs, initiatives, upcoming events and more.

[How Clean Is Your Stream?

[DEP’s Interactive Report Viewer allows you to zoom in on your own stream or watershed to find out how clean your stream is or if it has impaired water quality using the latest information in the draft 2020 Water Quality Report.].

(Photo: Sunbury, where the West and North Branches of the Susquehanna River meet.)

(Reprinted from the Middle Susquehanna RiverKeeper Blog.)

Related Articles - Environmental Rights Amendment:

-- WITF Documentary - Generations Yet To Come: Environmental Rights In PA

-- Bay Journal: PA’s Environmental Rights Amendment Grows Some Teeth

-- PA Environmental Council At 50: Securing Our Environmental Rights

-- The Environmental Amendment To The State Constitution By Franklin Kury

-- Review of Litigation Since 2017 PA Supreme Court Case Reinvigorating Environmental Rights Amendment

-- PA Supreme Court Declares Law Diverting Oil & Gas Lease Fund To General Fund Unconstitutional Under Environmental Rights Amendment  [2017]

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-- PA Parks & Forests Foundation 2021 Photo Contest To Honor Environmental Rights Amendment

[Posted: February 6, 2021]


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