WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday called for halting the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and said Congress -- not judges or regulators -- should take the lead role in grappling with global warming.
Bush, who leaves office in nine months, offered no specific proposals in the address.
But he laid out a framework for future measures he said would balance the need to curb carbon emissions blamed for increasing global temperatures, with protecting the U.S. economy.
The steps were immediately dismissed as "grossly insufficient" by the Sierra Club, while a leading Democratic congressman called the speech "too little, too late."
Bush said his administration's support of increased fuel-economy standards and alternative fuel research is "a solid foundation for further progress."
The next step, he said, would be to halt the growth of power industry emissions within 10 to 15 years -- steps he said depend on encouraging new technologies.
"The strategy I have laid out today shows faith in the ingenuity and enterprise of the American people -- and that's a resource that will never run out," he said. Watch Bush talk of need for "vigorous debate" on climate change »
Congress this year is slated to consider several competing bills aimed at reducing the carbon emissions blamed for an increase in global temperatures. Bush urged lawmakers to offer incentives to develop new technologies and to avoid tax increases, new mandates or demands for sudden emissions cuts.
"The wrong way is to unilaterally impose regulatory costs that put American businesses at a disadvantage with their competitors abroad, which would simply drive American jobs overseas and increase emissions there," he said.
"The right way is to ensure that all major economies are bound to take action and to work cooperatively with our partners for a fair and effective international climate agreement."
Bush, a onetime oil executive, was widely criticized for abandoning after he took office the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which aimed to limit greenhouse gas concentrations.
But he said his administration had reduced the "intensity" of carbon emissions -- a ratio of emissions to economic growth, which his administration adopted as its preferred standard.
Bush said Congress should make sure current U.S. environmental laws don't get "stretched" by courts or federal agencies to cover emissions from smaller sources like schools, hospitals and small businesses.
"Decisions with such far-reaching impact should not be left to unelected regulators and judges," he said. "Such decisions should be debated openly and made by the elected representatives of the people they affect. The American people deserve an honest assessment of the costs, benefits and feasibility of any proposed solution."
Ahead of Bush's announcement, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois, said Bush's proposals were "too little, too late."
"Now, after seven years of denying that global warming is a problem, the president will offer a tepid announcement that only ensures that the climate crisis will continue," said Emanuel, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
The Sierra Club, one of the largest environmental advocacy organizations, said emissions need to be rolled back, not just restrained, to prevent the worst effects of an increase in global temperatures.
"The president is throwing a Hail Mary to polluters in a last-ditch effort to stave off any meaningful action on global warming," the group's executive director, Carl Pope, said in a written statement Wednesday. "Under the president's plan, we'll need a real miracle to save us from global warming."
But James Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters the United States faces a "regulatory train wreck" under current laws.
"Let's say, for example, a school was trying to change a couple classrooms," he said.
If the courts or the Environmental Protection Agency decide that carbon dioxide emissions have to be restricted, "This might trigger them having to completely redo their heating and ventilation system for the entire school. Well, maybe they don't have the money for that. That's the kind of effect that's going to come from this."
Both Democratic presidential candidates and Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, support capping carbon emissions. But Connaughton said the administration still opposes any effort to cap overall emissions -- a step he said would be "disastrous" economically.
"Too much of our focus often is on it's only the government that's going to solve this," he said. "We have to empower the private sector to do so, as well." E-mail to a friend