Justice Dept makes defense of CO2 rules top priority

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 14, 2011 8:37am EST

A coal-fired power plant is seen in this file photo. REUTERS/Chris Baltimore

A coal-fired power plant is seen in this file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defending new regulations on the emission of greenhouse gases will be a top priority for the Obama administration this year as challenges emerge, a senior U.S. Justice Department official said on Thursday.

The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered states to begin issuing greenhouse gas permits that would allow emissions by the biggest polluters such as oil refineries, coal-burning power plants and cement and glass makers, prompting lawsuits.

"EPA's regulatory actions are of critical importance to the nation and defending against these challenges will remain one of our highest priorities in 2011," Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division, said in a speech.

The state of Texas has tried to obtain stays from federal courts that would delay the regulations, however it has failed so far. Texas, home to hundreds of plants that would be subject to the regulations, said the rules would hurt its economy.

The EPA declared in late 2009 that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health, which allowed it to start implementing regulations on the emissions blamed for warming the planet.

Many of the lawsuits from industrial groups claim the EPA did not do enough of its own research to reach that conclusion, but Administrator Lisa Jackson has said the agency relied on a vast amount of evidence from a broad swath of government agencies.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Timothy Gardner, editing by Lisa Shumaker)