Revising his stance on global warming, President Bush will propose a new target for stopping the growth of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
The president also will call Wednesday for putting the brakes on greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plans within 10 to 15 years, according to a senior administration official familiar with the afternoon speech Bush will deliver in the Rose Garden.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the speech.
Bush is not going to outline a specific proposal, but he'll lay out a strategy for "realistic" emission reduction targets and "principles" he thinks Congress should follow in crafting global warming legislation.
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 is aimed at shaping the debate on global warming in favor of solving the problem while avoiding heavy costs to industry and the economy.
The Bush administration has been a staunch opponent of a mandatory so-called "cap-and-trade" approach to reducing greenhouse gases. While it has backed some mandatory programs, it has preferred largely voluntary measures to broadly address global warming. In his speech, however, the president will not slam the door on discussing market-based approaches to stem the rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
"We aren't necessarily against cap-and-trade proposals," White House press secretary Dana Perino said earlier this week. But she added quickly, "What we've seen so far from Congress is not something that we can support."
The president remains opposed to a Senate bill that would require mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, calling that proposal unrealistic and economically harmful, Perino said.
Bush will speak forcefully about concerns he has 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.
Senior White House officials last week told a group of conservative Republican lawmakers in a private meeting that the administration wants Congress to act on climate change to avoid regulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping - or greenhouse - gases under existing laws.
Perino says the administration is concerned about a potential regulatory "train wreck" as a result of climate-related court rulings.
"Recent court decisions hold the very real prospect that the federal government will regulate greenhouse gas emissions with or without a new law being passed," Perino said. "To us, having unelected bureaucrats regulating greenhouse gases at the direction of unelected judges is not the proper way to address the issue."
Several of the conservative GOP lawmakers who heard the White House presentation last week said they viewed it as a move toward endorsing a limited type of "cap-and-trade" emissions reduction proposal, targeting power plants, and a reversal of long-standing administration climate policy.
The new White House climate initiative comes as Bush appears, in the view of congressional Democrats and environmentalists, as increasingly irrelevant in the climate debate both on the domestic and international stage.
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.
"The key is whether the president supports a mandatory cap on emissions," said Tony Kreindler, a climate specialist at the advocacy group Environmental Defense. "You never achieve any real reductions in pollution without legal limits. That's what we're going to be looking for."
Meanwhile, many environmentalists maintain that the congressional debate may be overtaken by the courts - the same prospect the White House is fretting over.
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.
While senior Bush administration officials were traveling to Paris this week to join a discussion with other countries about what actions to take on global warming, many foreign negotiators involved in such talks are increasingly looking ahead, knowing that likely the next administration will take the most decisive steps on U.S. climate policy.
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.
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