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Congress torpedoed a major piece of Mr. Obama’s climate change push in 2009 when the Democrat-controlled Senate failed to muster the votes needed to pass his “cap-and-trade” proposal. The bill passed the House, which Democrats also controlled.

The vote haunted Democrats in 2010 elections, when Republicans picked up 63 seats and control of the House after knocking off a number of Democrats who supported cap-and-trade.

Since that legislation failed, Mr. Obama — working primarily through the Environmental Protection Agency — has adopted fuel-economy standards for automobiles and proposed tough emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants, which critics say would amount to a de facto ban on new coal plants.

The administration and its supporters, meanwhile, also point to the billions of dollars Mr. Obama has poured into renewable-energy projects, such as wind and solar power, as examples of his commitment to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.

Still, the issue largely floated under the radar during the presidential election campaign last year. Instead, the debate focused on the economy, jobs and government spending.

Mr. Obama signaled his plans to revive the subject in his second inaugural address, challenging those who “still deny the overwhelming judgment of science” and arguing that the failure to tackle the issue would “betray our children and future generations.”

The Pew Research Center released a poll after the inaugural address that found Americans ranked climate change last on a list of 21 priorities for lawmakers — well behind the top three: strengthening the economy, creating jobs and reducing the budget deficit.

A Pew poll released in February showed 34 percent of the public viewed climate-change policies as something that must be tackled this year, while 62 percent of those surveyed favored stricter emission limits on power plants.