WASHINGTON -- President Obama is sticking to a fossil-fuel dependent energy policy, delivering a blow to a monthslong, behind-the-scenes effort by nearly every major environmental group to convince the White House that the policy is at odds with his goals on global warming.
The division between Obama and some of his staunchest supporters has been simmering for months, a surprising schism that shows the fine line the environmental community has walked with a Democratic president who has taken significant steps on climate change, and the recalcitrance of Obama's White House when it is criticized, even by its allies.
Days before Obama's State of the Union speech, the heads of 18 environmental groups sent a letter to the president that had long been in the works saying his policy doesn't make sense. They see a contradiction in increased American production of energy from oil and natural gas at the same time the government is attempting to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming.
"We believe that continued reliance on an 'all-of-the-above' energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution," they wrote.
But in his Tuesday night speech, Obama proclaimed that embracing all forms of energy, even carbon-pollution fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, is working.
"Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet," said Obama.
White House officials knew last spring that a letter objecting to Obama's energy policy was in the works. They urged the environmental groups to wait until after Obama delivered a speech on climate change in June, hoping his aggressive steps on global warming would change their minds.
"There is a cognitive dissonance inside the administration. We believe their commitment to fight climate change is genuine, and yet the energy policy goals of the administration make addressing climate change much more difficult," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
The environmental groups' stance could be dismissed as advocacy groups just doing what they do - pushing the president to go further on an issue important to their members. Already, they have protested a pipeline project carrying Canadian tar sands oil into the U.S., fought to shutter coal-fired power plants and opposed hydraulic fracturing.
But for the major groups, the letter marked new territory, the first time the lobby has been both united and sharply critical of Obama's central environmental issue and one they support in principle: curbing climate change.
"Not a lot of these groups have said it aloud. It does mark a shift in environmental community," said Maura Cowley, executive director of the Energy Action Coalition, who signed the letter.