'Waiting until 2025 to stop the growth of greenhouse gas pollution means, for all practical purposes, admitting defeat,' said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp. 'The president needs to set a much bolder goal if we're going to succeed.'
On the other hand, National Association of Manufacturers President John Engler said the president 'laid out a constructive and balanced set of principles' to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. 'Manufacturers seek climate change solutions that offer significant environmental benefits without undue risk to jobs and the economy,' he said. 'Technology should play a leading role in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.'
Climate change has been a thorny issue for Bush, who has questioned climate science and steadfastly opposed mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions despite growing national and international pressure to change course.
Speaking today in the White House Rose Garden, the president held firm to that ground, declining to support mandatory reductions.
Bush covered familiar territory, warning of efforts by Congress and federal regulators to force reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and defending his administration's climate policy.
'We are doing a lot to protect this environment,' he said. 'We have laid a solid foundation for further progress.'
Bush touted the recent approval of new fuel economy standards, a boost in the renewable fuels mandate, new energy efficiency regulations as well as increased funding for nuclear power, clean coal technology and hydrogen fuel cell research.
He suggested, however, that the nation 'has to do more' to cut emissions from power plants and called for these emissions to peak within 10 to 15 years.
'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.
The president's plan was, however, notably short on specifics and he did not outline a legislative proposal for Congress to consider.
But Bush did address the pressure on federal regulators to use existing laws to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
'We are facing a growing problem,' Bush said. 'Some courts are taking laws written more than 30 years ago primarily to address local and regional environmental effects and applying them to global climate change.'
'This would automatically trigger regulations of greenhouse gases all across our economy,' he added. 'This would make the federal government act like a local planning and zoning board and have a crippling effect on our entire economy. Decisions with such far-reaching impact should not be left to unelected regulators and judges.'
The president also indicated his reluctance to leave the issue in the hands of U.S. lawmakers - the Senate will soon consider legislation that calls for a nearly 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. The bill, which would create a cap-and-trade system the president has long opposed, calls for a 60 percent reduction in U.S. emissions by mid-century.
Although he did not directly address the specifics of the bill, Bush warned against legislation that would 'demand sudden and drastic emission cuts that have no chance of being realized and every chance of harming our economy.'
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, called Bush's plan 'the height of irresponsibility.'
She and other proponents of the Senate climate bill note that recent analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the legislation would have little adverse impact on the nation's economy. Furthermore, critics of the president's plan point out that it would permit greenhouse gas emissions to rise at least 10 percent by 2025.
'The president's short-term goal is to do nothing, his medium-term goal is to do nothing much, and his long-term goal is to do nothing close to what's needed to save the planet from global warming,' said Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Although many environmentalists responded with scorn to Bush's proposal, some found a silver lining in his speech.
The plan reflects the acceptance by the president that greenhouse gas limits are inevitable and marks a significant political shift in the debate over U.S. climate policy, according to Phillip Clapp, deputy managing editor of the Pew Environment Group.
'Seven years ago, President Bush questioned how much pollution was really contributing to global warming,' Clapp said. 'Today he acknowledged that a major change in America's energy economy must begin.'
The president's speech came on the eve of the third meeting of the Major Economies Initiative, which he launched last year to coordinate international climate change action. The group, meeting Thursday and Friday in Paris, consists of 16 nations that represent some 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Leaders of those nations will meet in July, Bush said, and will try to iron out a long-term goal for global emission reductions.
He encouraged other nations to create their own national plans as part of a global effort to tackle climate change.
'We are 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,' Bush said.
'We can only make progress if their plans make a major difference as well,' the president said, 'even if we reduce our emissions to zero tomorrow we would not make a meaningful dent in solving the problem without concerted action by all major economies.'
But the emission target outlined by Bush stands in stark contrast to the suggestion by climate scientists that the United States and other developed nations make cut emissions some 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
This leads many critics to argue that the president's plan makes little, if any, progress.
'Global warming is already transforming the world - last month, global warming caused a chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan to suddenly collapse,' said Emily Figdor of Environment America. 'President Bush's plan is on a crash course with scientific reality. The time for action is today - not 20 years from now.'
Others contend that Bush, who only has nine months left in office, has little chance of dictating future climate policy. All three remaining major presidential candidates favor mandatory cuts in emissions and have promised far more aggressive action to combat climate change.
'President Bush's announcement will be soon forgotten,' said David Sandalow, an energy and global warming expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. 'The most important decisions in the international global warming negotiations will be made once President Bush leaves office.'