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A Historic Step Forward for Cleaner Air

Today, President Obama announced a once-in-a-generation step forward for the environment and public health: the first-ever national standards for mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollution from power plants. This new rule has been 20 years in the making, but couldn't have come a moment sooner. For far too long, out-of-date power plants have polluted our air with toxins like mercury and arsenic: nasty stuff that causes everything from cancer and heart attacks to neurological damage.

There's a reason it took us so long to get here. The other side, including those running for president right now, has been fighting us tooth and nail to block new environmental protections like this one, while their industry allies have poured millions into rolling back time-tested safeguards already in place. It's pretty hard to understand their opposition, considering these updated standards will literally save thousands of lives. In fact, thanks to the President's action, when fully implemented, every single year we'll prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of asthma.

These numbers exist because power plants are one of the largest remaining sources of dangerous toxic air pollution—responsible for half of the mercury and over 75 percent of the acid gas pollution in our country. And children, in particular, have paid the price: more than 300,000 are born every year after being exposed to unsafe levels of mercury while in the womb, increasing their risk of having learning disabilities later on.

We know that when Americans are healthier and more kids can grow up without developmental problems, we're stronger as a whole. And for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, we'll see up to $9 in health benefits for a total of $90 billion annually—meaning that more people will be able to stay at work and school instead of the hospital, and spend less of their money on medical bills.

This rule also paves the way for tens of thousands of new jobs as power plants get up to speed with today's technology: an estimated 46,000 short-term construction and 8,000 long-term utility jobs in the next few years. And it goes without saying: the standards will also go a long way towards cleaning up our nation's lakes and streams—great news for fish and other wildlife, and those of us who'd like to enjoy our waterways without the threat of mercury making us sick.

Here's why this is so important to me: I got my start in public service many years ago at the EPA and saw up close just how hard the other side fights against any significant steps forward like this one to protect our air. After 20 years of delays in protecting our kids and our environment from the largest polluters of these toxins, President Obama got it done.

But we should also remember that in historic moments like this, those fighting to protect the status quo often end up being heard the loudest. That's why we need to be even louder in our support for the President and his decision to give our children the healthier future they deserve.

Say you stand with the President for clean air.

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Stephanie Cutter, Deputy Campaign Manager