12/23/2011 03:18 pm ET | Updated Feb 22, 2012

At Last!

It is a monumental day for the health of our families and the planet.

For the first time in American history, the president and his EPA have committed to protecting our families from harmful mercury pollution from power plants -- even in the face of intense lobbying by polluters who would prefer that mercury and other toxins continue to spew into our air without limit.

We've known for decades that exposure to mercury poses major threats to human health. Yet up until now, mercury pollution has remained largely uncontrolled from many of the nation's top mercury emitters.

As a result, mercury contamination is widespread. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more American waters are closed to fishing due to mercury pollution than because of any other toxic contaminant. Mercury makes its way into our waterways after leaving power plants' smokestacks. It falls to the ground in rain or snow, runs into waterways, and over time builds up in fish. Eating contaminated fish is the main source of human exposure to mercury.

Exposure to mercury affects kids' ability to walk, talk, read, write, and learn. Children poisoned even by low levels of mercury in utero can suffer from impaired brain functions, learning disabilities, and lower IQs. Mercury and other air toxins like lead and sulfur dioxide coming from power plants are linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks, and even premature death.

Currently, one in ten American women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her blood to put her baby at risk, should she become pregnant. Simply unacceptable.

Environment America Research & Policy Center's report, America's Biggest Mercury Polluters found that coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury pollution, accounting for two-thirds of all airborne mercury pollution in 2010. In fact coal-fired power plants generate more airborne mercury pollution than all other sources -- including incinerators, steel mills and cement manufacturing plants -- combined.

For decades, the coal industry working with their allies in Congress and in past administrations has successfully delayed rules to protect public health by reducing mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants, even though technology to control toxic air pollution is well-developed, widely available, and already being used by some plants.

This March, President Obama and EPA proposed a strong standard to limit mercury from power plants. Since then, both the president and EPA faced enormous opposition from industry lobbyists and their friends in Congress.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity launched a $35 million ad campaign assailing the president and EPA's work to limit harmful air pollution.

Additionally, some in Congress have repeatedly tried to block, delay, and weaken EPA's life-saving mercury standard. The "TRAIN Act," just one example, passed the U.S. House of Representatives this fall, and would have indefinitely delayed the mercury standard as well as standards limiting smog and soot pollution, putting 139,500 lives at risk.

But despite polluters' best efforts, the mercury standard enjoys incredible public support. Americans know that our air and our bodies are no place for poison, which is why so many of us spoke out in record numbers in favor of cleaning up the largest sources of mercury. This summer, more than 900,000 Americans submitted comments for the administration's proposed mercury standard -- the most public input ever received by EPA for a standard. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the comments were in support of the standard.

Thus after years of inaction and delay, as of 2016, Americans will finally get what we want and deserve: mercury and toxic air pollution emissions from power plants will be reduced by 90 percent, preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and saving 11,000 lives each year.

So thank you, EPA, and thank you, President Obama. Thank you for following the science and following the will of the American people. Thank you for standing up to polluters and their political allies. And mostly thank you for protecting our families and our environment from mercury and other toxic air pollution.