03/20/2011 02:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I Demand Cheaper Electricity

The biggest single source of electricity in the United States is coal-fired power plants. And that electricity is way too expensive. The Environmental Protection Agency this past week proposed a rule to make that electricity much cheaper.

You see, burning coal has the unfortunate side effect of releasing mercury and arsenic into the air. It is generally agreed that burning coal for electricity puts at least 48 tons of mercury into the air -- the largest unregulated source of mercury. The problem is that mercury is an extremely toxic metal which kills people and damages the development of infants -- particularly their brains.

For me, this cost -- up to 17,000 premature deaths per year PLUS brain damage -- is the real cost of coal electricity. We pay the price. There is no doubt about that. But the coal companies think it is free.

Since 1970, EPA has had the legal authority to address this problem. And for literally four decades, the power of the coal industry has blocked any progress because they are making money off the premature deaths and brain damage of thousands of others.

EPA's rules require the coal fired utility industry to lower mercury emissions by more than 90%. There is no actual debate that this is possible. More than half the industry already meets some of the standards -- it is a minority of the industry doing the killing and the brain damage.

A few coal plants will close. Many will shift to natural gas rather than dirty coal. And some utilities will shift to clean renewable power. But thousands will live longer and tens of thousands will avoid brain damage.

Protecting the public health is a popular role for EPA and the public sector. Few, if asked, would demand that mercury remain an essential ingredient of our electricity. Yet that is precisely what the powerful dirty coal industry would want you to believe. Their representatives in Congress are already gearing up to defeat or delay EPA's public health initiative. After all, they have succeeded for 40 years.

The representatives of coal already control the new Republican House. They even have a slight majority in the Senate. But they do not control EPA unless Congress cuts off funding for protecting us from mercury and arsenic.

Defending EPA's much deferred bid to protect us is the single most important public health initiative fight this year. I hope you will join in to lower the real price of your electricity. It is far higher than needed.