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Barrett says climate change is a 'contentious matter of public debate'

Barrett says climate change is a 'contentious matter of public debate'
© Bonnie Cash

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettSupreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline Trump fights for battleground Arizona Supreme Court won't fast-track GOP bid to block Pennsylvania mail ballot extension MORE declined to say whether she believes climate change is an ongoing threat during her confirmation hearing, instead calling it a “contentious matter of public debate.” 

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTrump fights for battleground Arizona Biden to air 90-minute radio programs targeting Black voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's big battleground | Trump and Harris hit the trail in Arizona | Turnout surges among new voters MORE (D-Calif.) contrasted Barrett’s view on climate change with the nominee’s views on coronavirus and smoking during a line of questioning. 

“Do you accept that COVID-19 is infectious?” asked Harris, who is running for vice president. 

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“Yes, I do accept COVID-19 is infectious...it’s an obvious fact,” said Barrett. 

“Do you accept that smoking causes cancer?”

“I’m not sure exactly where you’re going with this,” Barrett told Harris, but added, “Yes, every package that cigarettes warns that smoking causes cancer.”

“And do you believe that climate change is happening and is threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink?” Harris replied. 

“You have asked me a series of questions that are completely uncontroversial...and then trying to analogize that to elicit an opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate and I will not do that. I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial,” Barrett said.

“Thank you Judge Barrett,” Harris said. “You’ve made your point clear that you believe it’s a debatable point.”

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The vast majority of scientists believe that climate change is occurring and is largely human-caused. Many serious concerns have been raised about its impacts on sea level rise and links to extreme weather. 

During the exchange, Harris also asked Barrett whether she would defer to scientists if a case requires her to consider scientific evidence. 

"If a case comes before me involving environmental regulation I will certainly apply all applicable law, deferring when the law requires me to. And as I'm sure you know, Senator Harris, the Administrative Procedure Act does require courts to defer to agency fact-finding and to agency regulations when they’re supported by substantial evidence," the judge said. 

"So yes, I would apply that law and defer when the law requires me to defer," she added. 

The climate comments follow a similar statement by Barrett from Tuesday in which she said she doesn’t have “firm views” on climate change. 

Earlier Wednesday, Barrett also said she didn’t want to “opine” on what causes climate change and said her beliefs wouldn’t be relevant to a position on the court. 

"I don't think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge nor do I feel like I have views that are informed enough, and I haven't studied scientific data. I'm not really in a position to offer any kind of informed opinion," she said.