Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett refused to say whether she accepts the science of climate change, saying she lacks the expertise to know for sure and calling it a topic too controversial to get into.
On Wednesday, pressed at her confirmation hearing by Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Barrett framed acknowledgment of manmade climate change as a matter of policy, not science.
Barrett said Harris, the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee as well as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was trying to get her to state an opinion “on a very contentious matter of public debate, and I will not do that.”
Barrett was responding to a series of questions from Harris, including whether she thinks the novel coronavirus is infectious, whether smoking causes cancer and whether “climate change is happening and it’s threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink.”
The federal appeals court judge responded that she does think coronavirus is infectious and smoking causes cancer. She rebuffed Harris on the climate change question, however, for seeking to “solicit an opinion” on a “matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial.”
The exchange occurred during the committee's hearing on Barrett's nomination to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Scientists say climate change is a matter of established fact and that the damage is mostly caused by people burning oil, gas and coal. Climate experts, including federal scientists in the Trump administration, say increasingly fierce wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters point to the urgency of global warming.
Acknowledging and dealing with climate change are politically laden issues. President Donald Trump, an ardent booster of the coal, oil and and gas industries, routinely questions and mocks the science of climate change, while Democratic rival Joe Biden is proposing an ambitious $2 trillion plan to wean Americans off fossil fuels to slow global warming.
The Trump administration has rolled back major Obama-era efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions from cars and trucks and power plants. Many of the administration's environmental and public health rollbacks are likely to wind up before the Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican and another member of the committee considering Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation, also asked Barrett what she thinks about a series of issues, including climate change.
"I’ve read about climate change,” Barrett answered.
“And you have some opinions on climate change that you’ve thought about?” Kennedy asked.
“I’m certainly not a scientist,” Barrett replied, using a frequent refrain of more conservative Republicans on the matter. “I would not say that I have firm views on it,"
On Twitter, climate experts and members of past administrations rebuked Barrett for demurring.
“SORRY, HER VIEWS ON CLIMATE ARE RELEVANT TO ALL LIVING BEINGS,” wrote Leah Stokes, a climate researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara.