The news that the Obama administration is on board with an international pact to significantly decrease mercury use is fantastic for those of us committed to switching from dirty coal power to clean, renewable energy sources.

This is a bold step for the U.S. — one that is a long-time coming for coal-fired power plants. Coal plants are one of the largest sources of man-made mercury pollution in the U.S.

Mercury pollution causes brain damage and other developmental problems in unborn children and infants, and it has been linked to a greater risk of coronary heart disease in men. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 8 percent of women had mercury blood levels exceeding the level deemed safe for unborn children by the Environmental Protection Agency. Our mercury regulations should be strict to protect public health and the environment.

Yet it was this quote from the Washington Post article on the international mercury treaty that stuck out to my colleagues and me: “Once the administration said it was reversing the course set by President George W. Bush, China, India and other nations also agreed to endorse the goal of a mandatory treaty.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

For too long we’ve heard the regulation nay-sayers use the excuse that whatever restrictions and regulations we introduce will only hurt the U.S. economically because China and India will not do the same. This mercury treaty shows the reality: If the U.S. acts first, then China and India will follow.

This bodes well for carbon legislation. The U.S. must act first on carbon regulation. China and India will follow our lead.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.