CAPE ELIZABETH – As emergency room doctors, we face crises every day. We recognize when vital signs are weak and we know what we need to do to restore health. We also know that sometimes it is too late for intervention.

Global warming and climate change are real and so are their impacts on public health. People with heart problems, asthma, the elderly, the very young and the homeless are vulnerable to extreme heat, like the record-breaking temperatures we had in Maine this summer.

Hotter summers mean more power plants that are upwind from Maine burning more fossil fuels to run air conditioners that then send more pollution into the atmosphere that drifts our way. This pollution makes it much worse for those who suffer from allergies and we now know it can also cause cancer and heart disease. We also know that carbon pollution stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, creating health effects for generations to come.

Climate change has also increased vector-borne diseases in Maine, most noticeably Lyme disease from deer ticks, which has long-lasting effects for those who do not have access to immediate treatment.

The most effective intervention for these growing health impacts is to vastly reduce the amount of climate changing pollution we are putting into the air as quickly as possible. This requires the passage of comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation at the federal level.

The U.S. House passed such a bill in 2009. But it is evident that the coal and oil lobbyists have been spending millions of dollars over the past year in an effort to denounce the reality of climate change and to undermine the development of the clean energy sector in order to promote the status quo: our broken energy system. This summer, the U.S. Senate jettisoned a clean energy bill.

Now several members of the U.S. Senate with coal and oil interests are trying to prevent the enforcement of the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency’s  authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

They are seeking to attach such amendments to other bills making their way through the Senate. For the sake of our environment, economy, and, most importantly, the health and safety of our families, these dangerous measures must be defeated.

These proposals are coming at a time when U.S. policymakers need to be working to hold polluters accountable, not undermining people’s health and our nation’s clean energy future. The disregard for our air and water and our public health is shocking and frightening for those of us who face the consequences of climate change in the emergency department.

The EPA recently reported that over its first 20 years, the Clean Air Act prevented 200,000 premature deaths, 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis and 21,000 cases of heart disease. It avoided 843,000 asthma attacks and 18 million childhood respiratory illnesses.

It has removed 1.7 million tons of toxic emissions from our air every year since 1990. In the last two decades, emissions of six common pollutants dropped 41 percent. Lead in our air is down by 92 percent since 1980.

Time and again, federal rulings have been bitterly opposed by affected industries that threaten closures and job losses. Yet history shows that the cost of compliance is nowhere near what affected industries claim, lives have been saved and the economy has not crumbled while we try to take care of the health of our people and the environment.

Seat belts, airbags and tobacco regulations are just a few examples of federal rulings that have saved lives.

The Clean Air Act has been championed by Maine’s environmental leaders, like former Sens. Edmund Muskie and George Mitchell. We urge Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to uphold Maine’s legacy to ensure that the Clean Air Act is not weakened in any way. We need this tool in full operation to hold polluters accountable.

Our senators must also continue to work toward the broader solution: a comprehensive approach to clean energy and climate that will move the country in a new direction – before it’s too late for all of us.