A decision on whether carbon dioxide endangers public health as a greenhouse gas will probably be made by the next administration, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said "as a practical matter" he would not expect the complex regulation to be completed in less than a year, leaving a final rule to his successor.
Johnson has been criticized by congressional Democrats and environmentalists for not moving fast enough to decide the pivotal climate issue.
All three presidential candidates — Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham and GOP Sen. John McCain — have said climate change needs to be addressed and have called for mandatory measures to curtail greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide.
The Supreme Court more than a year ago concluded carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels was a pollutant because it is a major source of global warming and directed the EPA to decide if it endangered public health and welfare. If so, the court said, it must be regulated.
"Carbon dioxide is a pollutant. I accept that," said Johnson at a meeting with reporters Monday at Platt's Energy Podium, an energy information provider operated by the McGraw-Hill Cos.
But Johnson said the carbon dioxide issue is so complex and far-reaching that formal, thorough rulemaking is needed. He promised a preliminary notice for a preliminary set of options by June 21, an early step toward a final rule.
After the session, Johnson noted that major EPA regulations often take several years to complete.
Last month, 18 states and various environmental groups asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to require the EPA to make a decision on carbon dioxide within 60 days. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley called the EPA's pace of action "a shameful dereliction of duty."