White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that Mr. Bush wants to work with U.S. allies on a plan that would require developing nations to meet certain standards.
"To exempt most of the world is not a treaty the president thinks is in the interest of this country, or would get the job done," Fleischer said. "It's important to include the world in the treaty, not exempt most of the world."
In addition to pointing out that no other industrialized nation has implemented the treaty, the administration cited potential harm to the economy as a reason for backing away from the accord, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.
Democratic leaders in Congress and environmental groups promised to fight Mr. Bush on the Kyoto climate treaty and other recent policy reversals they called setbacks to the environment.
They warned the president not to reverse another Clinton rule that would keep 60 million acres of national forest off limits to development. Neither should he go ahead with plans to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Reserve, they said.
"American people are asking for a change," said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society. "We do not want these regulations rolled back and we're going to make this a political issue."
"This is yet one other case where the president is saying, 'We want a foreign and environmental policy that is unilateral,"' said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. "This is a go-it-alone American policy on the environment and it must not stand. We have to turn it around."
"The new president came to town saying he would change the tone and change the climate in Washington," said Gephardt. "I guess we didn't realize it was the actual climate he wanted to change."
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman told reporters Tuesday that the Bush administration was not interested in implementing the treaty because Congress was unlikely to ratify it.
She said the administration will remain "engaged" in international negotiations on ways to address climate change. But it was unclear what position the administration intends to take to the next United Nations meeting on the Kyoto accords, scheduled for this summer.
Whitman repeatedly noted that the Senate voted 95-0 against the United States taking any action on climate change unless developing countries also take some measures to reduce heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases, which are mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.
At the White House for a budget meeting, Republican congressional leaders stood behind the administration decision. "The Senate has already spoken on the Kyoto treaty and we had 95 votes that said we wouldn't ratify the Kyoto treaty because it didn't apply to all countries and it was imbalanced and it set targets that were probably not reachable," said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., the assistant Senate majority leader.
The Kyoto agreement calls for industrial nations to reduce emissions, at least for the time being. The United States would be required to cut emissions about a third by 2012.
President Bush on a number of occasions has expressed his opposition to the Kyoto accord, which the Clinton administration had viewed as essential to dealing with the risks of climate change.
Whitman noted that no other industrial country has ratified the agreement. "We are not the only ones who have problems with it," Whitman said.
Three weeks ago, Whitman in a memo urged the president to continue to recognize global warming as a serious concern, arguing that to back away from the issue would be damaging both domestically and internationally.
"Mr. President, this is a credibility issue for the U.S. in the international community. It is also an issue that is resonating here at home," she wrote in the March 6 memo. "We need to appear engaged."
The memo came a week before Mr. Bush announced he would not endorse legislation regulating carbon dioxide, reversing a position he had taken during his presidential camaign.
On Tuesday, Whitman defended the memo.
"My job as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and as a member of the Cabinet is to provide the president with my best take and what I think is in his best interest," she said.
"He has the broad picture and he needs to make a decision based on all the factors that he sees that I don't take into account as the administrator of the EPA," she continued. "I am fully comfortable with his decision on this."
In rejecting charges it is environmentally unfriendly, the White House points to new regulations on diesel emissions and plans to crack down on pollutants that cause acid rain.
"This is an administration that is going to surprise everybody with how much...progress we are going to make," Whitman said.