Obama warns not to ‘ignore’ climate science, but admits cap-and-trade won't move

But Obama also clearly affirmed EPA's right to act, citing the landmark 2007 Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for the agency to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Cap-and-trade legislation that would have largely supplanted the upcoming EPA rules collapsed in Congress this year.

“The EPA is under a court order that says greenhouse gases are a pollutant that falls under their jurisdiction. One of the things that is very important for me is not to have us ignore the science, but rather to find ways that we can solve these problems that don’t hurt the economy, that encourage the development of clean energy in this country, that in fact may give us opportunities to create entire new industries and create jobs and that put us in a competitive posture around the world,” Obama said.

“I think it is too early to say whether or not we can make some progress on that front. I think we can. Cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat, it was not the only way, it was a means, not an end, and I am going to be looking for other means to address this problem. And I think EPA wants help from the legislature on this. I don’t think the desire is to somehow be protective of their powers here. I think what they want to do is make sure the issue is being dealt with,” he said.

The comments come as many Republicans and some centrist Democrats are pushing to limit EPA’s power to regulate emissions from power plants, refineries and other sources. EPA rules are slated to begin taking effect next year.

Obama acknowledged the sweeping cap-and-trade and energy bill that passed the House last year will stay on ice.

"I think there are a lot of Republicans that ran against the energy bill that passed in the House last year. And so it's doubtful that you could get the votes to pass that through the House this year or next year or the year after," he said.

But Obama said he sees opportunities for working across the aisle on boosting natural gas development, domestic production of electric cars, nuclear power — which he noted does not emit greenhouse gases — and energy efficiency.

“I don't think there's anybody in America who thinks that we've got an energy policy that works the way it needs to, that thinks that we shouldn't be working on energy independence,” Obama said.

“And that gives opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to come together and think about — you know, whether it's natural gas or energy efficiency or how we can build electric cars in this country — how do we move forward on that agenda,” he added.

This post was updated at 2:33 p.m, 2:52 p.m. and 3:03 p.m.