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Obama: 'I won't go' for climate action that hurts jobs, growth

President Obama spells out how he plans to spend more time on climate policy in his second term.

In his first substantive comments about climate change in months, President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed to do more in his second term -- just not at the expense of jobs and economic growth.

The president got support from mainstream environmentalists, but criticism from activists wanting climate at the top of the policy pile. 

"We haven't done as much as we need to," Obama said in response to a reporter's question about climate policy that was asked at a wide-ranging White House news conference.

Obama did not provide specifics, but said he would talk with "scientists, engineers and elected officials" in the next few months to make more short-term progress on reducing carbon emissions.

Longer term, he said, a national conversation is needed "to make sure that this is not something we're passing on to future generations."

Obama emphasized, however, that Americans "have been so focused on, and will continue to be focused on, our economy, jobs and growth."

"If the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change," he added, "I don't think anybody's going to go for that. I won't go for that."

But if the plan is to "create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change ... I think that's something the American people would support," Obama said.

The president didn't spell out how, but his first-term climate policies focused on stimulating jobs in industries reducing carbon emissions.

The balancing act did not go over well with Forecast the Facts, a climate activist group.

"The president’s assertion that addressing climate change should be secondary to concerns about the economy is a gross disappointment," Brad Johnson, the group's campaign manager, said in a statement. "While conventional D.C. wisdom is focused on the manufactured crisis of the 'fiscal cliff,' the truth is that the most urgent threat to our national safety and economic well-being is the climate cliff that we are already beginning to tumble over."

At the Sierra Club, blogger Paul Rauber gave Obama the benefit of his doubt about long-term action, but added: "I hope we don't wait too long."

The Natural Resources Defense Council was more generous. 

"President Obama already has done more to combat climate change than his 43 predecessors combined," NRDC President Frances Beinecke said in a statement. "He’s determined to do more, and we’re ready to help him finish the job."

But she also was quick to offer policy advice. "The next step," she urged, "is to go after the biggest sources of carbon pollution -- power plants."

More from the news conference:

The climate issue was largely absent from the presidential campaign.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney mocked Obama's stance, telling his party's convention in August that "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family." 

Obama did pick up a late endorsement from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose city was battered by Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29.

Bloomberg said he favored Obama, in part, because he "sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet."

While climate scientists decline to attribute individual weather events to global warming, many believe extreme storms like Sandy, along with more intense droughts, wildfires and floods, will become more common if temperatures continue to warm.  

After Obama's comments Wednesday, Bloomberg welcomed the national conversation proposed by the president. "I look forward to supporting that new effort in any way I can," he said in a statement.

U.S. lawmakers in 2009 did debate so-called cap-and-trade legislation meant to limit carbon emissions, but that attempt died and has not been re-introduced.

California on Wednesday did launch its own statewide cap-and-trade system. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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