YARMOUTH — The Environmental Protection Agency has presented its plan to revamp the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which puts the health of pregnant women, infants, children and communities of color in jeopardy. Many people, including numerous leaders in the faith community, are profoundly concerned by the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back protections from mercury and other air-borne toxins.

The current standards, issued in 2011, have been instrumental in reducing dangerous levels of mercury, heavy metals and other toxic air pollution. Coal-fired power plants are the most significant source of mercury pollution, emitting almost three-quarters of all mercury air emissions in the U.S.

Mercury pollution affects the most vulnerable among us: unborn babies and children. Babies exposed to mercury in the womb suffer long-term impacts on their memory, cognitive thinking, language and fine motor skills (which enable tasks such as holding a fork or turning a doorknob). The EPA estimates that the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks each year. The current standards help us in our pursuit to care for God’s creation and uphold the common good.

Of all the anti-environmental actions taken by the Trump administration, this one may be the most egregious. It threatens the health of children and babies. It’s also dangerous for adults: Exposure affects vital organs like the lungs, kidneys, brain and heart. And it disproportionately affects people of color and lower-income families, who are more likely to live and work in areas near polluting power plants that emit mercury.

Thankfully, Sen. Susan Collins has weighed in. She and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., have introduced the Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act, a bill that would establish a national mercury monitoring network to protect human health, safeguard fisheries and track the environmental effects of emissions reductions.

“Mercury is a potent neurotoxin of significant ecological and public health concern, especially for children and pregnant women. It is estimated that approximately 200,000 children born in our country each year have been exposed to levels of mercury in the womb that are high enough to impair their neurological development,” said Sen. Collins from the floor.

“A comprehensive national mercury monitoring network is needed to protect human health, safeguard our fisheries and track the effect of emissions reductions. This tracking is important in light of increasing mercury emissions from other countries, including a substantial amount of mercury emissions from China. Mercury can be transported around the globe, meaning emissions and releases can affect human health and environment even in remote locations.

“This network is particularly important after the EPA’s recent proposal on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard,” Sen. Collins continued. “The EPA released a proposal that determined it is no longer ‘appropriate and necessary’ to regulate mercury and toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired plants. I just do not understand why EPA would send that signal. While the EPA has not proposed to change the current emissions standard on mercury and the toxic air pollutants in the regulation, the EPA’s action … could block future efforts to strengthen this standard that is so important to protecting human health and our environment.”

Instead of weakening the standards, we need more information about mercury pollution. In 2013, the United States was the first country to join and sign the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global agreement to reduce mercury pollution. The Minamata Convention has since been signed by more than 125 countries, demonstrating the widespread concern that mercury poses a global threat to human health.

The EPA will hold a hearing Monday on its proposed new standards, and public comments on the proposal will be accepted through April 17 via bit.ly/2O67vUI. It is important that the EPA hear from the American people that we do not want mercury pollution to put our children and our planet at risk. I agree with Sen. Collins that there is no reason why we should weaker standards that have served our country well.