By Chaka Fattah and Adam Garber

All Pennsylvanians should be able to breathe the air and drink the water without worrying about mercury and lead in their bloodstreams or soot and smog in their lungs. Yet hundreds of thousands of tons of mercury and other hazardous pollutants are spewed into our environment every year, contaminating our air, land, waterways, and food.

Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has moved to protect our health and environment with stricter standards on emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants. The standards, proposed in March, are the subject of a hearing in Philadelphia today.

The pollution in question poses particular risks to children, affecting their ability to walk, talk, read, and write. The EPA estimates that mercury pollution is so widespread that one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her blood to put a baby at risk if she becomes pregnant.

Mercury and other toxic pollutants were first listed as hazardous under the Clean Air Act in 1990. But for more than two decades, heavy emitters have successfully fought and evaded efforts to reduce such dangerous air pollution. And a deeply flawed standard set by former President George W. Bush's administration was struck down in court.

The new proposed standards would reduce power plants' mercury emissions by 91 percent, preventing an estimated 12,200 annual trips to the hospital and saving 17,000 lives a year once implemented.

The goal is to safeguard public health, not punish power companies for providing a valuable public service. As such, the new rule would give power plants three years to adopt proven, widely available technologies to control and cut harmful emissions. One-year extensions would be available for companies that can't meet the deadline.

The EPA's hearing in Philadelphia today is one of only three scheduled nationwide to gather feedback on the proposed rule. We urge the public to speak out in support of the rule and against any further delay.

Chaka Fattah is a Democratic congressman representing parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. Adam Garber is field director for PennEnvironment. Today's hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Westin Philadelphia, 99 S. 17th St. Comments are also being accepted through July 5 via a-and-r-docket@epa.gov.