President Bush is poised to change course and announce as early as this week that he wants Congress to pass a bill to combat global warming, and will lay out principles for what that should include.
Specifics of the policy are still being fiercely debated, but Bush administration officials have told Republicans in Congress that they feel pressure to act now because they fear a coming regulatory nightmare. It would be the first time Mr. Bush has called for statutory authority on the subject.
“This is an attempt to move the administration and the party closer to the center on global warming. With these steps, it is hoped that the debate over this is over, and it is time to do something,” said an administration source close to the White House who is familiar with the planning and who said to expect an announcement this week.
The source requested anonymity to be able to speak on a sensitive matter still under debate. Given the arguments at the White House over the extent of the action to take, it is not clear exactly what Mr. Bush will propose, the adminstration source said.
Still, Republican members of Congress who were briefed last week let top administration officials know that they think the White House is making a mistake, according to congressional sources and others familiar with the discussions. Opponents said Mr. Bush could be setting off runaway legislation, particularly with Democrats in control of Congress.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino would not say whether an announcement is imminent. She said discussion has continued on how to follow up on Mr. Bush’s call at the Group of Eight summit last year for the U.S. to lead on a post-Kyoto Protocol worldwide framework.
The administration also is trying to head off what it sees as a regulatory disaster. Environmentalists say greenhouse gases can be regulated under existing rules under the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act, and have filed lawsuits to try to force action. The Bush administration and others want to avoid a web of rules and regulations for businesses.
“The embedded regulatory trajectory that we’re on is a train wreck,” Mrs. Perino said. “For those who want reasonable and responsible action, it is worthwhile to have a constructive conversation as we work to keep the developing nations in this process in a way that will work to solve the problem without harming the economy.”
She said the administration’s discussions, both internally and with Congress, are building toward an expected debate on climate change in the Senate in June and toward the next G-8 meeting in July, when the U.S. would like to have a more specific conversation about goals for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.
At the end of this week, U.S. officials will be in Paris for a meeting with officials from other major economic powers, where climate change is expected to be on the table. Sources in the administration and in Congress say this meeting explains the White House push.
Mrs. Perino, though, stressed that the White House does not expect countries to come to the meeting with specific proposals.
Many scientists say humans are contributing to climate change through increased carbon dioxide emissions from industry, power generation, automobiles and other sources. Some governments, including European nations, have enacted rules to try to limit their emissions, though opponents say those rules end up hurting their economies without much environmental benefit to show for it.
With Sens. John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the remaining major presidential candidates, all favoring new controls on greenhouse-gas emissions, Mr. Bush could be trying to lay the groundwork for the next president.
All three candidates are on record in favor of a cap-and-trade system, such as the Europeans have. The system sets an overall limit on carbon emissions and allows polluters to buy credits from companies that stay below their carbon targets.
The congressional and administration sources said it’s not clear whether Mr. Bush will go that far this week.