That shift was clear in the reaction to Obama's State of the Union. Groups that had viewed the June climate speech positively pointed out what they saw as a flaw in logic in the president's remarks Tuesday night.
"An 'all-of-the-above energy strategy' cannot work for the president's own climate action plan and the climate vision he espoused," said Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, who also signed the letter. "We should not be locking ourselves into fossil fuel dependence that doesn't pass the president's own climate test."
The idea to take on Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy began to take shape at a retreat in upstate New York in May. As the groups privately pressed the White House to adjust its policy, White House officials pushed them to hold off on the letter until after the climate speech.
The letter was sent Jan. 16.
The White House objected to its substance, arguing that it is possible to control emissions even as fossil fuel production climbs.
John Podesta, an Obama senior adviser, wrote that he was "surprised" the groups moved forward with the letter, especially since the White House has had to fend off repeated attacks from Republicans and the fossil fuel industry on its environmental policies.
No one in the environmental community is knocking what Obama has achieved. He has secured deals to double the fuel economy for cars and trucks, greatly expanded renewable energies such as wind and solar power and has proposed the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide pollution from future coal-fired power plants.
This summer, the Obama administration is expected to take on the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution by proposing limits for existing coal-fired power plants.
Yet, at the same time, the number of rigs drilling offshore in the Gulf of Mexico has returned to levels not seen since the BP oil spill. Oil production and natural gas production are booming, largely on private lands where the administration has little control, and as a result so is the heat-trapping pollution from those operations. While U.S. greenhouse gas emissions declined 4.5 percent overall from 2011 to 2012, thanks in part to a switch from coal to natural gas for electricity production being helped along by Obama, emissions from oil and gas production were up and second to only power plants when it comes to global warming.
"They know they are doing more than previous administrations and we know that too," said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, one of the environmental groups that signed the letter. "They aren't doing what the moment requires, and they know that too."
Or as, Bill McKibben, a founder of 350.org and frequent critic of the administration's pro-fossil fuel strategies, said, "If you double the number of drilling rigs in the country and open up huge swaths of [public lands] to mining, and then you also put up some solar panels, it's like having a Weight Watchers brownie after you've eaten four pints of Ben and Jerry's." McKibben did not sign the letter.