‘History is made’ on mercury emissions

It’s not uncommon for the Obama administration to do something worthwhile. Once in a while, though, the administration does something very worthwhile that will have a major impact on society.

Dave Roberts has a helpful piece today on the EPA’s new national standards for mercury pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants — the first of their kind — which he described as “a Big Deal” and an instance in which “history is being made.”

Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live. […]

[T]his is an historic day and a real step forward for the forces of civilization. It’s the beginning of the end of one of the last of the old-school, 20th-century air pollution problems…. Long after everyone has forgotten who “won the morning” in the fight over these rules, or what effect they had on Obama’s electoral chances, the rule’s legacy will live on in a healthier, happier American people.

Roberts refers to public health, and it’s worth emphasizing just how expansive a difference this is likely to make.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson explained in a statement, “By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health — and especially for the health of our children. With these standards that were two decades in the making, EPA is rounding out a year of incredible progress on clean air in America with another action that will benefit the American people for years to come. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance.”

When we talk about separates a Democratic administration from a Republican one, there are no greater reminders about the differences than measures like these.

If recent history is any guide, this encouraging news won’t get quite as much attention as it deserves, and that’s a shame. Obama’s critics on the left expect developments like these, and don’t make a fuss to congratulate the administration for progress they’d like to be routine. Obama’s critics on the right generally want to avoid pro-pollution pronouncements, so they ignore news like this.

Regardless, whether it generates headlines and/or political chatter or not, these new regulatory steps are a breakthrough.