President Bush on Monday ordered his cabinet members to begin drafting rules that will comply with recent a Supreme Court decision combating greenhouse gases as well as meet his call to begin replacing gasoline with alternative fuels.
"We're taking action by taking the first step towards rules that will make our economy stronger, our environment cleaner and our nation more secure for generations to come," Bush said, addressing reporters in the Rose Garden.
Bush said he ordered his cabinet members to finish the process by the end of 2008. While the regulations he called for can be implemented by the executive branch, Bush added that Congress could make even more of a difference.
"With good legislation, we could save up to 8.5 billion gallons of gasoline per year by 2017 and further reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks," Bush said.
Bush said he signed an executive order Monday directing the EPA and the Energy, Transportation and Agriculture departments to work with White House staff and Congress to develop regulations that will meet the needs of the ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA by using Bush's "20 in 10" plan to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent by 2017 as a starting point.
The 20 in 10 plan focuses on reducing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards — the average fuel economy standards for autos and light trucks — as well as reducing gasoline consumption by boosting alternative fuel consumption to 35 billion gallons by 2017.
The White House is hoping for a bipartisan accord to make way for broader, more effective changes.
"This is a proposal that seems to give both parties what they say they want in terms of pursuing energy independence and at the same time pursuing a cleaner environment," White House press secretary Tony Snow said earlier Monday.
"So there ought to be a pretty good bipartisan basis for passing such legislation. We'll continue to work it."
Last month in a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court ruled carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases qualify as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and can be regulated by the EPA, which the administration had fought.
The court also said the reasons the administration had given for declining to regulate greenhouse gases are insufficient, and that the agency must regulate carbon dioxide, the leading gas linked to global warming, if it finds that it endangers public health.
Bush has said that he recognized the serious environmental problems created by such emissions and other so-called greenhouse gases. But he has urged against anything other than a voluntary approach to curbing emissions, saying regulations could undercut economic activity.
The president also says he will accept no global deal on greenhouse gases without the participation of China, India and other high-polluting, developing nations.
Since taking control of Congress in January, Democrats have held a number of hearings exploring the consequences of climate change and have been pressuring the administration to say when it will comply with the high court's ruling and decide whether to regulate carbon dioxide.
The environmental group Environmental Defense said the effort "will fall far short of fixing the climate problem" without mandatory caps on carbon emissions.
"Whether EPA will lead the fight against global warming or lead us to a hotter planet remains to be seen," said Environmental Defense President Fred Krupp. "It's time for this administration to join with the mainstream of American businesses and support a cap on carbon."
Echoing comments in his 2006 State of the Union address, Bush also said U.S. dependence on oil is an economic risk because uncontrolled shocks to supply can drive up prices, and it is a national security threat because it "leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes and to terrorists who could attack oil infrastructure."
But Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., criticized the Bush administration's efforts to date to wean America off foreign sources of energy.
"The president's energy activities are barely registering in the American consciousness. In large part, this is because there is no energy campaign upon which he has visibly and repeatedly staked his reputation and legacy. ... Our energy dependence is perpetuated by a lack of national will and focus. Only the president has the visibility to elevate a cause to national status," Lugar told an audience in Washington.
"Ending our oil import dependence will not suddenly cure poverty, end terrorism, prevent weapons proliferation, or bring peace to the Mideast. But failing to address oil dependence guarantees that our pursuit of these foreign policy goals will be encumbered and our way of life will remain under threat. American national security will be at risk as long as we are heavily dependent on imported energy," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.