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This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.

Two decades ago, Congress promised the American public major reductions of the most dangerous air pollutants—toxics such as mercury, arsenic and lead that cause major health problems and can lead even to premature death. Today, after a long struggle in which Earthjustice proudly participated, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took historic action to clean up the worst of all toxic air offenders: coal-fired power plants.

These unrivaled sources of toxic air pollution—which damage our lungs and hearts, threaten the health and well-being of children across the U.S., and contribute to the toxic burden shouldered by low-income and minority communities—have never been required to limit their emissions of toxic air. Until now.
At a press conference this morning, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced her agency’s new health protections against these dangerous pollution sources and signed the proposal flanked by kids from a local elementary school in S.W. Washington, D.C. Cleaning up coal-fired power plants will create a better, cleaner future for these and other kids across the country. One particularly notable example: when the health protections take effect in 2016, the EPA estimates that as many as 17,000 lives will be saved… every year.

Administrator Jackson was joined at the podium by Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, O. Marion Burton, M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Jonathan Truwit, M.D., a critical care and pulmonary medicine specialist at the University of Virginia Medical Center. These public health professionals each made compelling cases that reducing coal plants’ toxic pollution will save lives and improve our health.

As the mother of a child with asthma, Jackson understands firsthand the impact air pollution can have on people, particularly vulnerable populations like kids, the elderly and individuals with pre-existing respiratory problems. Jackson noted that these health protections will prevent up to 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms every year.

Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew has been integrally involved in ensuring these long-awaited health protections are delivered to the public. He represented other groups in successful litigation that overturned a weak health standard adopted during the Bush administration. These efforts ultimatelyled to the establishment of a deadline (today) for proposing this critical toxic air pollution standard.

Upon the EPA’s announcement today, Jim commented:

For decades, our nation’s dirtiest polluters have been able to pollute with impunity… This pollution leads to lung and heart disease, cancer, learning disorders and even death.
Today’s proposal to regulate these toxic air pollutants illustrates a commitment by the EPA to follow the law and protect public health. Every year, thousands of American die as a result of dirty and unregulated pollution, and for years this tragedy has been ignored. The EPA must move forward with the strongest toxic air pollution limits for power plants, and ensure protections for our health, our communities and our children.

The fight for the right to breathe is not yet won, however. When the EPA takes public comment on its proposal, you can be certain that the polluters that will be forced to clean up under these standards will push back hard. We cannot allow them to weaken, delay or block these protections.

Your individual voice will be instrumental in this process. Consider attending a public hearing on the proposal, tentatively scheduled for Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia. Sign the Right to Breathe Declaration and we will keep you informed of how to contact the EPA and make your voice heard.