"The debate is settled. climate change is a fact," Obama said. "And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say, 'Yes, we did.' "
Obama offered some new proposals, such as an effort to develop "sustainable shale gas growth zones" to keep regional economies stable when production diminishes, and, in a nod to environmental groups that have been pressing for such action, pledging to protect more wilderness.
Obama also, despite touting increased production, took swipes at the oil and gas industry as he advocated a "smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don't need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do."
Still, the president showed no signs of backing down from his energy strategy despite calls from green groups to reduce fossil fuel development.
"The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we've been in decades," Obama said. "One of the reasons why is natural gas -- if extracted safely, it's the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change."
But green groups said Obama can't have it both ways on climate and energy. Eighteen environmental groups pressed the president to move away from natural gas and oil in a letter earlier this month, saying increasing reliance on them was counterintuitive to Obama's climate agenda.
Although natural gas produces half the carbon emissions of coal, some green groups say methane leaks from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could eliminate its climate benefits. They also worry fracking pollutes groundwater and say the administration has backed off investigations of possible water pollution from fracking.
“Fossil fuel extraction and exports are a major blind spot in the Obama administration’s climate plan that will continue to undermine domestic and global efforts to reduce carbon pollution," Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford said Tuesday.
Obama credited natural gas with driving emissions lower. That's largely because power plants are burning natural gas instead of coal, as the abundance of natural gas that has come online during the shale energy boom has made prices competitive with coal. That switching helped push U.S. emissions last year to their lowest level in 18 years.
But Republicans say the climate emphasis is coming at a time when most Americans aren't prioritizing it.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Tuesday that showed 27 percent of respondents said tackling climate change was an "absolute priority" this year. Forty-one percent of respondents said action can wait until next year, and 29 percent preferred to drop climate measures altogether.
Conservatives, centrist Democrats and industry groups have portrayed Obama's regulatory approach to reducing emissions as economically harmful, contending it will restrain or cost jobs.
“We can't afford to double down on the failed policies of tax, spend, regulate and mandate. That approach hasn't worked for the last five years, and it won't work now," U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue said Tuesday.
A coalition of industry groups that includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Mining Association will start an initiative Thursday that aims to "ensure the administration's greenhouse gas regulatory agenda does not harm American jobs and the economy."
The administration and some of its supporters have argued, however, that climate push will create clean energy jobs.
And although the Obama administration has touted increasing domestic production — the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects oil production will hit a near-record 9.5 million barrels per day in 2016 — Republicans and business groups say that's occurred in spite of the president's policies.
They've railed against a draft rule to manage fracking on federal lands and say the White House has kept too much of it off-limits to drilling.
"If President Obama has decided to take unilateral action, he can fight income inequality by seizing this once-in-a-lifetime energy moment by allowing more oil and natural gas jobs that pay seven times the minimum wage," American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard said.