Gov. Paul LePage has correctly complained that Maine’s higher-than-average electric rates drag down our state’s economy.

While Maine has the lowest rates in New England, we are still far higher than Southern and Midwestern states that burn coal to produce electricity.

One of the reasons these plants operate so cheaply is that they export their toxins on prevailing air currents to New England and dump them on our heads.

That’s why Mainers should applaud new standards adopted last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will curb toxins in air pollution by about 90 percent within five years.

The new rules are way overdue, thanks to the millions spent on lobbying by the coal, petroleum and electricity utility industries.

The new rules won’t come without a cost to ratepayers in the affected states, estimated at $9.6 billion annually.


But those costs are far outweighed by the estimated health care savings, estimated between $37 and $90 billion annually by 2016 when the new law fully goes into effect.

But there’s more: The U.S. Lung Association estimates that the stricter standards will prevent 130,000 childhood asthma attacks each year and 11,000 premature deaths.

Maine has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation, and the “tailpipe” effect of transported pollutants is one of the biggest reasons why.

But there’s more.

The new rules are expected to reduce 90 percent of the airborne mercury produced by these coal-fired plants.

That mercury ends up in our fish and wildlife and, ultimately, in our bodies. Even small amounts of mercury contribute to attention deficit disorder, developmental delays and learning disabilities.


The new rules will also force these power companies to reduce another toxic chemical, lead, in their emissions.

Over the years, scientists have found that even tiny amounts of lead can cause learning and behavioral impairment in children.

“Before this rule, there were no national standards limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases that power plants across the country could release into the air that we breathe,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said last week.

The longstanding problem with fossil fuels has always been their unallocated costs. Today, we know that coal may be cheap to burn, but the medical and environmental costs are paid elsewhere in asthma attacks, acidic waterways and restrictions on eating fish.

The new EPA rule will more fairly allocate those costs back to the people who deserve to pay them, the electric ratepayers who now enjoy artificially inexpensive power.

That should help even out the disparities between electric rates in New England and other regions of the country.

And that, we trust, is one form of increased governmental regulation that our governor can fully support.

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