Environmentalists Slam Bush Climate Goal

President George W. Bush announced Wednesday what the White House calls "realistic long-term and intermediate goals" for stopping the growth of greenhouse gas emissions -- which scientists say are responsible for warming the planet.

"I am announcing a new national goal: to stop the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025," Bush said during a speech at the White House Rose Garden Wednesday.

Bush did not, however, propose specific legislation requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Instead he offered a broad goal of reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 without specifying how the goal should be reduced.

Environmental groups argue the president's speech is political posturing designed to erode support for more strident legislation that will be debated in Congress this June.

"He obviously is way too late with way too little in terms of emission reductions that are needed to address the crisis at this point," said Dan Lashof, science director of the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.

"The president is throwing a Hail Mary to polluters in a last-ditch effort to stave off any meaningful action on global warming. Under the president's plan we'll need a real miracle to save us from global warming," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Environmental groups argue Bush's goal of halting the growth of emissions is insufficient, and point to scientists who have argued there needs to be a cut of total emissions by 80 percent by 2050 in order to prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming.

"Europe has agreed to reduce its emissions 20 percent and pledged to 30 percent by 2020 if the U.S makes a comparable commitment," said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Despite Bush's assertion today citing a reduction in intensity of emissions, greenhouse gas emissions — including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — have risen over 15 percent since 1990, according to the Energy Information Administration's latest report, released in November.

Scientists and environmentalists argue the current, rising carbon dioxide emissions must decrease within the next four decades by about 70 or 80 percent in order to have a chance of getting the rising global temperature to level off around 2050. At that point, it will be about two degrees hotter than it is today.

The Bush administration has resisted mandatory federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, Bush today touted market-based solutions and new technologies as solutions to climate change.

"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 said.

Democrats and environmentalists dismissed his speech Wednesday as an effort to preempt legislation set for debate in Congress in June that advocates for more far-reaching efforts at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Democratic-led Senate is scheduled to debate several bills in June, all opposed by the White House, including one sponsored by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., which would legally require companies to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2050.

In his speech on climate change today, the White House said Bush was trying to frame the debate rather than let it go on "auto-pilot" when legislation comes for debate in Congress in June, said deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto.

Today on the Senate floor, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said Bush's plan don't go far enough.

"We can't wait until 2025 to deal with greenhouse gas emissions. That is too late, that is dangerously late, that is doing nothing," Boxer said.

Democrats in Congress and environmental groups agree on the need for a law that mandates companies to reduce their emissions, not just slow their growth, which scientists argue would do nothing to stop global warming.

All three presidential candidates, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Hillary Clinton, D-NY, and Barack Obama, D-Ill., support mandatory limits on greenhouse gases and are advocating a much more aggressive platform to address climate change. The White House has long resisted federal law mandating limits on emissions.

"We need an economy-wide mandatory system in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to deal with this big problem while we still have time to do so," said Kate Smolski of Greenpeace's climate change campaign.

Currently the Bush administration is ignoring a Supreme Court order that the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal agency, determine whether carbon dioxide is harmful to human health and welfare. The court said if it is deemed to be harmful, the EPA must regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Business groups are lobbying hard against mandatory restrictions. A powerful business lobby group based in Washington, DC released a commissioned study this week arguing the Lieberman-Warner bill would cost jobs and increase gas and electricity prices.

"Add to these findings that rapidly developing nations such as China and India have signaled that they have no indication to adopt similar climate change policies to reduce their emissions and the economic implications are even more alarming," said John Engler, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers in a statement this week.

The speech comes on a day when Pope Benedict XVI is meeting with Bush at the White House. The pope is expected to make global warming a focus of his speech before the United Nations Friday, framing it as a moral imperative.

"The Vatican knows that the U.S. makes its decisions as it does, but the Vatican will not back down on its own positions," said Father Keith Pecklers, Professor of Theology at Gregorian University in Rome.

"Regarding the planet, the future of the planet, the ecological concerns, the Vatican has been very much at the forefront … so these are issues where, in some ways it's agreeing to disagree."

The Bush administration has long raised the ire of the international community by failing to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol.

Environmental groups and some states have turned to the judicial system to demand protections for the environment, something that is concerning the White House.

White House officials argued this week that having unelected bureaucrats regulating greenhouse gas at the direction of unelected judges is not the proper way to address this issue.

However many environmental groups are looking toward the future, hopeful that a new president could change the momentum on the global climate change debate.

"At this point Bush isn't going to be able to avoid his legacy of being one of denial and delay," Lashof said. "His attempt to get involved in the debate at this late stage is probably an effort to slow the progress that we really need, such as the Lieberman-Warner bill."

"President Bush came into the office in 2001 as an oilman from Texas and he leaves office in 2009 an oilman from Texas," Passacantando said.

With reporting and writing by ABC News' Jonathan Karl, Jennifer Duck, Bill Blakemore, and Clayton Sandell.