(AP) President Bush on Wednesday called for a halt in the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and urged other major polluting nations to develop national goals to address climate change.
In a Rose Garden speech on global warming, Bush expressed concern that Congress might pass climate legislation that would hurt economic growth. Critics of his energy policy have argued that the Bush administration has dragged its feet in addressing the problem. But Bush argued that his staff was working intently to address the contentious issue about greenhouse gases believed responsible for the warming of the Earth.
While setting a broad goal, the president offered only a general outline - and few specifics - about how to achieve the objectives. Bush's proposal was quickly denounced by congressional Democrats and environmentalists as falling far short of what is needed to stabilize the concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
Bush said unilateral action by the United States, however, will not make a dent in fixing the problem.
"Like many other countries, America's national plan will be a comprehensive blend of market incentives and regulations to reduce emissions by encouraging clean and efficient energy technologies," Bush said. "We're willing to include this plan in a binding international agreement, so long as our fellow major economies are prepared to include their plans in such an agreement."
The United States and other countries agreed at a meeting in December in Bali, Indonesia, to work to set firm targets for reducing greenhouse emissions by the end of 2009, as a follow-up to the Kyoto reduction targets that expire in 2012.
The president also called for putting the brakes on greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants within 10 years to 15 years.
"We're doing a lot to protect this environment. We've laid a solid foundation for further progress. While these measures will bring us a long way toward achieving our new goal, we've got to do more in the power-generation sector," the president said.
"To reach our 2025 goal, we will need to more rapidly slow the growth of power sector greenhouse gas emissions so that they peak within 10 to 15 years, and decline thereafter," he said. "By doing so, we will reduce emission levels in the power sector well below where they were projected to be when we first announced our climate strategy in 2002.
"There are a number of ways to achieve these reductions, but all responsible approaches depend on accelerating the development and deployment of new technologies," Bush added.
Senate Democrats said the president's plan would allow continued growth of greenhouse gases for nearly two decades during which the government estimates U.S. heat-trapping emissions will grow. U.S. emissions from electric power plants alone are expected to grow by 16 percent.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, called Bush's new climate strategy "worse than doing nothing ... the height of irresponsibility."
The new goal for curtailing greenhouse gas emissions is an attempt to short-circuit what White House aides call a potential regulatory "train wreck" if Congress doesn't act on climate change. The president's speech was aimed at shaping the debate on global warming in favor of solving the problem while avoiding heavy costs to industry and the economy.
The president remains opposed to a Senate bill that would require mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, calling that proposal unrealistic and economically harmful.
"I believe that congressional debate should be guided by certain core principles and a clear appreciation that there is a wrong way and a right way to approach reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Bush said. "Bad legislation would impose tremendous costs on our economy and American families without accomplishing the important climate change goals we share."
Bush expressed concern over a possible rush to address the Earth's warming through a hodgepodge of regulations under existing federal laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.
All three presidential candidates - Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain - favor a more aggressive program on climate change than does Bush, all supporting mandatory limits on greenhouse gases.
Senate Democratic leaders plan to begin debate in June on legislation that would cap greenhouse gases and allow polluters to ease some of the cost by buying emissions credits. This cap-and-trade approach is aimed at cutting the emissions by 70 percent by mid-century. The House also is moving toward considering a cap-and-trade proposal. And many industry lobbyists have become resigned to some type of cap-and-trade proposal moving forward, if not this year probably next, and are trying to find ways to limit the damage.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called Bush's announcement a "late, insufficient and insincere effort" by the president.
"No matter how hard he tries to square the circle, there will be no American leadership on climate change if President Bush insists on appeasing congressional Republicans by refusing to support a responsible cap-and-trade policy that achieves the levels of emission reductions called for by our nation's top scientists," Kerry said.
Meanwhile, many environmentalists maintain that the congressional debate may be overtaken by the courts.
The Environmental Protection Agency already is under orders from the Supreme Court to determine whether carbon dioxide is endangering public health or welfare. If so, the court said, the EPA must regulate CO2 emissions.
Carbon dioxide is the leading greenhouse gas, so named because its accumulation in the atmosphere can help trap heat from the sun, causing potentially dangerous warming of the planet.
At the same time, the Interior Department has been told by another court to decide whether the polar bear should be brought under the protection of the Endangered Species Act because of disappearing sea ice - a phenomenon blamed by scientists on global warming.
"If these laws are stretched beyond their original intent, they could override the programs Congress just adopted. ... Decisions with such far-reaching impact should not be left to unelected regulators and judges," Bush said.