EPA nominee stirs up deep-seated climate views in Senate

A Senate hearing on the nominee for a top Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) post had lawmakers battling over carbon emissions limits and extreme weather events on Tuesday.

Janet McCabe, President Obama's nominee to be assistant chief of the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, fielded a fair amount of questions, but spent a majority of her time watching Senators duke it out over whether climate change exists or not.

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Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee defended McCabe and the EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards for new and existing coal-fired power plants.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the committee, had few questions for McCabe, whom she called "eminently qualified." Instead, Boxer used her time to slam Republicans for trying to derail the EPA carbon emissions rules.

Pointing to a photo of a smog-plagued China, Boxer said Republican efforts to "repeal 28 times various portions of the Clean Air Act" and block EPA's power plant rule before it's enacted, would result in similar consequences.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) assailed Boxer for her remarks, calling her claims that Republican proposals would cause pollution in the U.S. as severe as that in China "ridiculous, cartoonish, and irresponsible."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) echoed the sentiment when criticizing Democrats for pushing climate change policy. Sessions called Obama's climate agenda pushed by the EPA "misleading."

He threatened to vote against McCabe's nomination if she holds the same belief as Democrats that climate change has escalated extreme weather events.

"I am aware that when the climate warms, which it is doing, that creates more energy in the atmosphere that can lead to more extreme weather events, as well as droughts and wildfires," McCabe told Sessions.

Sessions called her response a good theory but incorrect.

"If you continue to insist that there have been more hurricanes in the last century and that they've increased as a result of global warming and climate change, I don't see how I can support your nomination," he said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) defended McCabe and the administration's efforts to exert its authority to curb the effects on climate change, adding that Republicans drove the administration to do it.

"Until people are willing to come out of their bunker and say 'OK, this is real; let's negotiate' we are not going to be able to get anything done," Whitehouse said. "And [Republicans] shouldn't be able to stop negotiations in Congress and then tell [the EPA] that you shouldn't act until Congress has taken this up."