WASHINGTON – Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy vigorously defended the Obama administration’s new carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plants, insisting that the emissions reduction plan will provide important health benefits to the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, including children.

Appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee – and fending off a barrage of criticism from the panel’s Republican members – McCarthy said coal-fired power plants are the largest carbon producers in the U.S., accounting for about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA plan will cut hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution and hundreds of thousands of tons of other harmful air pollutants.

“All told, in 2030, when states meet their goals, our proposal will result in about 30 percent less carbon pollution from the power sector across the U.S. when compared with 2005 levels – 730 million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the air,” she told the panel. “In addition, we will cut pollution that causes smog and soot by more than 25 percent.”

In the first year alone, McCarthy said, the reductions will result in 100,000 fewer asthma attacks and 2,100 fewer heart attacks. Those sorts of benefits will steadily rise. By 2030, the regulations will result in climate and health benefits resulting in a savings of up to $90 billion.

“And for soot and smog reductions alone, that means for every dollar we invest in the plan, families will see $7 in health benefits,” she said. “And because energy efficiency is such a smart, cost-effective strategy, we predict that, in 2030, average electricity bills for American families will be 8 percent cheaper.”

But McCarthy’s claims were quickly dismissed by the committee’s GOP members, who maintain the strict new regulations represent a sop to environmental interests. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the ranking member, said there are “so many issues with this proposal that it’s impossible to say anything good about it.”

The new standards, Vitter said, are “fundamentally similar” to proposals issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council and result in the EPA “insisting that states ration electricity and limit consumer choice, especially if that choice involves using more electricity.”

“EPA’s proposed rule will increase costs to families, schools, hospitals, and businesses, and will, as always, hit the poor, the elderly, and those on fixed incomes the hardest,” Vitter said. “In reality, it is essentially a federal takeover of the American electricity system.  I, for one, am not comfortable with this EPA takeover, and neither are the people of Louisiana.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asserted that the EPA is implementing an “oppressive climate agenda” that could “negatively impact every single American.”

“The consequences of the administration’s proposed rule would be disastrous for our economy and would have miniscule impact on the environment,” Wicker said. “In summary, the proposed rule is a breathtaking regulatory overreach. It is a job-killer. It is based on questionable science. It is of dubious legality under the Clean Air Act. It amounts to an end-run against Congress. It is inflexible. It would have no effect on the climate and is therefore pointless, and it is punitive.”

Wicker, and other GOP lawmakers, cited the new regulations as another example of what they have termed the Obama administration’s “war on coal.” McCarthy said her agency is reacting to the threat of global climate change.

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time,” McCarthy said. “It already threatens human health and welfare and economic well-being, and if left unchecked, it will have devastating impacts on the U.S. and the planet. The science is clear. The risks are clear. And the high costs of climate inaction are clear. We must act.”