THE BLOG
06/25/2012 04:07 pm ET Updated Aug 22, 2012

Why This Election Matters: Romney and GOP Lawmakers Choose Polluters, Not Kids

I have two kids in elementary school, and over the years, I have met many children coping with learning disabilities. Some have a hard time paying attention, some have trouble with fine motor tasks like handwriting, and some have limited language skills. Each one of these issues makes it harder for kids to thrive in school, and I know their parents do whatever they can to help them succeed.

Unfortunately they don't have allies in Mitt Romney or other GOP leaders in Washington.

There are many causes of learning disabilities, but one proven contributor is exposure to mercury and lead -- potent neurotoxins that can impair children's ability to think and learn. The Obama Administration proposed standards to reduce mercury and lead pollution from coal-fired power plants.

But this week, Senator James Inhofe (OK-R) introduced a bill to repeal those standards. On Tuesday evening, Romney joined Inhofe's crusade to make life easier for dirty power plants.

That's right. Romney and Inhofe would rather let big polluters off the hook than protect our kids from a toxin that causes developmental delays and other serious conditions. So do the 46 Senators who voted on Wednesday to block the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

These leaders are completely out of step with what ordinary people care about: the health of our families. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will deliver up to $90 billion in annual benefits to Americans by preventing every year up to 130,000 asthma attacks, nearly 5,000 heart attacks, and 11,000 premature deaths, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

This attack on clean air safeguards shows exactly what's at stake in this election. House Republicans have cast more than 250 votes to undermine public health and environmental standards over the past year, but their reckless efforts to dirty our air and water have been blocked by the slim Democratic margin in the Senate. The White House also threatened to veto many of these attacks.

If the November election ushers more anti-environment lawmakers into Congress -- and the White House -- we could lose a critical line of defense between our families and dangerous polluters. Bills like Inhofe's could become law, and our kids will be exposed to more mercury, arsenic, lead, and countless other toxins.

And our job as parents will get a lot harder. Like most moms, I try to keep my kids healthy. I take them to their checkups, I exercise with them, and I make them eat vegetables even if they don't like them. But I can't go down the street and tell a power plant to clean up its mercury. I know, because my parents tried to clean up the plant that stood next to my elementary school. It released so much pollution that the paint on the teachers' cars literally blistered. But despite my mom's best efforts, parents couldn't change the power company. Quite the opposite: The school closed down, not the plant.

No matter how dedicated our PTAs are, there are some fights we can't win alone. We need the government to step in and set the standards that make companies clean up their act. Romney doesn't agree. Or apparently he doesn't agree this year. But back in 2003 when he was governor of Massachusetts, he proudly boasted about his state's new mercury standards to clean up power plants.

These days Romney is changing his spots to blend in with an increasingly radicalized GOP. Many of my relatives vote Republican, and I know the GOP has a long tradition of environmental protection. It was President Nixon, after all, who signed the Clean Air Act in 1970 and President Bush who made it stronger in 1990.

But the party has shifted in the past few years. Senator Inhofe used to be the outlier on energy and environmental issues -- the wacky uncle at the reunion rambling on about the "climate hoax." But as Inhofe's former Communications Director Marc Morano told the National Journal, "Now he is the new normal. He is the new mainstream."

That's an alarming insight, because Inhofe doesn't represent the Republican values of conservation. He represents corporate polluters. His number one contributor over the years was the oil and gas industry: $1,390,996. His number two contributor was electric utilities to a tune of $471,067.

The November elections could sweep in more Inhofe allies, making it easier for lawmakers to strip away more of the standards that protect our children from pollution. Consider a vote for an pro-environment candidate the latest prescription for your kids' health.