At a time when Congress is assaulting Environmental Protection Agency regulations designed to keep Americans safe, new studies indicate that mercury levels are on the rise once again for some fish and wildlife, according to the Great Lakes Commission. Rather than softening EPA rules, the Obama administration needs to stand boldly behind the environmental protections demanded by the Clean Air Act.

Unfortunately, House Republicans have voted nearly 170 times this year alone to erode clean air and water laws and thwart other environmental protections. In addition, most GOP presidential candidates are calling for a moratorium on EPA regulations, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Georgia's Newt Gingrich want to abolish the agency altogether.

Not only are these views irresponsible, they reflect gross ignorance of the impact that EPA rules make toward safeguarding Americans' quality of life and health. While the Tea Party and GOP leaders may distrust the EPA, the majority of Americans want stringent regulations to protect air and water qualities, according to studies.

"Several Clean Air Act rules and standards which address acid precipitation [acid rain] and greenhouse gas levels also can impact the health and persistence of fish populations in Minnesota and around the country," said John Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited.

His organization is one of many in Minnesota rightfully calling on Congress to back EPA efforts to regulate air emissions. He notes that most of the mercury pollution contaminating Minnesota's fish and waters comes from outside the state.

It simply isn't right that the good work done by Minnesota and its businesses to protect the state's natural resources is being undermined by out-of-state polluters and congressional leaders willing to look the other way. The Great Lakes Commission found that contamination levels in loons, walleyes and some other species have increased in the past decade, even as mercury emitted from U.S. smokestacks has been declining for years.

Earlier this year, the EPA issued a proposed rule that would further reduce emissions of heavy metals, such as mercury, from coal-fired power plants. These plants are the largest source of mercury emissions.

The negative health impacts of toxic air are well-documented and include bronchitis, asthma and heart disease. When airborne mercury reaches water, it can change to the toxic methylmercury, which is found in tainted fish. Methylmercury is also a concern because of the damage it can cause to the nervous systems of unborn children and young children.

Among the most reckless bills to pass the House this month is the EPA Regulatory Act, which would prohibit the agency from setting new limits on toxic pollutants, including mercury, from industrial boilers and incinerators for 15 months. The act also would eliminate deadlines for compliance with any new standards.

Weakening the EPA's authority now could have a disastrous impact on our air and ecosystems. Sadly, 25 states, largely led by GOP governors, have petitioned a federal court to block the agency's plan for limits on mercury and other air contaminants. Let's hope they'll be stopped.