Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at a previous House hearing on Capitol Hill. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Jackson said the House Republicans’ plan to cut more than $3 billion from the EPA would have a major impact. “Big polluters would flout legal restrictions on dumping contaminants into the air, into rivers, and onto the ground,” she said. “There would be no EPA grant money to fix or replace broken water treatment systems. And the standards that EPA is set to establish for harmful air pollutants from smokestacks and tailpipes would remain missing.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, said Senate Democrats could live with the Obama administration’s proposed $1.3 billion EPA cut from a year ago, but not the cuts called for by House Republicans.

The House proposal would significantly reduce a program to establish a more aggressive “pollution diet” to limit the nutrients that run off cities and farms into the rivers that flow into the Chesapeake.

“These cuts mean our drinking water has a far greater chance of contamination,” Boxer said. “We are facing touch economic times, but tough times call for intelligent decision-making and wisdom, not reckless cuts that will do more harm than good.”

Republicans said the EPA drafted plans under the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions in manufacturing without the benefit of an analysis to determine possible job loss.

Industries would cut employee rolls to pay for technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,Republicans warned. Many conservatives deny or are skeptical of scientists who say man-made pollution has contributed to global warming.

“Carbon is not pollution no matter what the EPA says,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said to Jackson.

“Nobody here is saying let’s not have clean water and clean air,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), said. “But there has to be some common sense about the way we’re going about this.”

Democrats on the panel said Republicans and manufacturers always complain when presidents push public safety measures that involve manufacturer regulations, whether it’s mandating seat belts for cars or removing lead from paint. But Republicans said the regulations can also go too far.

Johanns said the Obama administration is pushing regulation without sympathy for the people it affects, and predicted that Jackson would eventually lose political support across partisan lines.

“One strategy is to keep your head down, go straight ahead and see who wins at the end of the day,” Johanns said. “These regulations affect real people trying to make a living in my state and other states in the country. These people are really struggling to figure out how to deal with you folks. I’m just so frustrated with where the EPA is at and what they’re trying to do.”