The Obama administration has taken a historic step toward making breathing a little easier for Maine’s children and future generations. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from new power plants.

Power plants are the largest U.S. source of carbon pollution, fueling global warming, which health professionals warn dirties our air with smog pollution.

Smog pollution threatens Mainers’ health, triggering asthma attacks and permanently damaging children’s lungs.

Maine has among the highest asthma rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 10 percent of Maine adults have asthma, compared with the average of 8.5 percent nationwide.

And our state suffers from high levels of smog pollution; in 2011, the American Lung Association gave every county in Maine other than Oxford County a grade of C or worse for high levels of smog pollution.

Here’s how this problem works: One of the key contributors to the build-up of smog pollution is higher temperatures. That’s why the days with the most dangerous levels of smog are also usually some of the hottest days of the year.

And since global warming — fueled in part by carbon pollution from power plants — will result in higher temperatures and thus more smog, more than 120 health organizations are on record stating that global warming is a serious public health issue.

These groups include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association and the American Thoracic Society.

Global warming also contributes to other problems, including more devastating floods, more extreme weather and more deadly heat waves.

We’ve known for years that coal-fired power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution, yet they’ve lacked any federal limits on their carbon emissions.

So at the same time that many of the nation’s largest utilities were collecting enormous government subsidies, they were also being let off the hook about cleaning up their carbon pollution.

Fortunately, the Obama administration is working to protect Mainers’ health by cleaning up this pollution.

Building on its historic standards for toxic mercury pollution from power plants finalized last year, and its still-developing carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, this administration is moving forward once again to hold polluters accountable and protect our health.

We know, though, that many of the same corporate polluters that have fought to continue spewing unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air in the past will once again fight this common-sense move by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect our health.

That’s where Mainers can help.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently holding a public comment period to gauge public opinion on new standards. In order to ensure that EPA keeps these standards strong — and begins developing carbon pollution standards for existing power plants as well — we urge Mainers to make their voices heard during this critical period (for more information, go online to regulations.gov).

The great late Sen. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine would be proud to see the EPA is doing its job to uphold the Clean Air Act, to hold polluters accountable and to improve air quality.

The Clean Air Act is often referred to as the “Muskie Act,” due to his central involvement in its creation. Since 1970, the Clean Air Act has protected the health of Americans and, with improvements based on new science, it can do so for generations to come.

That is why we are so pleased with the Obama administration’s and EPA’s new proposed rules to limit carbon pollution. But let’s make sure the administration finishes the job and finalizes a strong rule.

Anika James is the field associate for Environment Maine, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.

David Marshall is a Portland city councilor and chair of the city’s Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee.

— Special to the Press Herald