OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrett says climate change is a 'contentious matter of public debate' | Shuffle of EPA's science advisers elevates those with industry tries | Conservation groups to sue Trump administration, seeking giraffe protections

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrett says climate change is a 'contentious matter of public debate' | Shuffle of EPA's science advisers elevates those with industry tries | Conservation groups to sue Trump administration, seeking giraffe protections
© Greg Nash

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THE JURY IS OUT? Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettGraham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Supreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs 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 HarrisBiden officially clinches Electoral College votes with California certification Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Trump campaigns as wild card in Georgia runoffs MORE (D-Calif.) contrasted Barrett’s view on climate change with the nominee’s takes on the coronavirus and smoking during a line of questioning. 

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

“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 later added, “Yes, every package that [holds] 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.”


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

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. 

She also said on Tuesday that she didn’t have “firm views” on climate change. 

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) asked the nominee what she thinks about a series of issues, including climate change.

“My colleagues seem to think you’re only qualified if you’re dumb, if you have a blank slate, if you’ve never thought about the world. You’ve thought about the world, haven’t you?” Kennedy asked.

She affirmed that she had. 

Kennedy then asked her about nuclear energy, affirmative action and climate change. 

“I’ve read about climate change,” Barrett said. 

“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 refrain Republicans have said repeatedly on the subject.

“I’ve read things about climate change. I would not say that I have firm views on it,” she replied. 


Asked again about her views on climate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Wednesday, Barrett said she didn't believe they are relevant to the Supreme Court job.

"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.

Blumenthal then asked Barrett if she agrees with President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE's views on climate change, to which she responded, "I don't know that I have seen the president's expression of his views on climate change."

Read more on the exchanges here and here. 

DO THE SHUFFLE: A shuffle to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) independent board of science advisers will add a longtime consultant who has worked for the tobacco and chemicals industries while promoting a member listed as someone “not to pick” by the Union of Concerned Scientists to the panel's chair.

The EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) is meant to serve as an outside sounding board on the agency’s actions, with 40 or so of the nation’s top scientists weighing in on the scientific backing behind a number of policy proposals. 

But the board has shifted under the Trump administration, adding more members with ties to industry and fewer members with an academic background, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. That follows a move by prior EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA proposes reapproving uses of pesticide linked to brain damage in children | Hispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham | Schwarzenegger backs Nichols to lead EPA EPA proposes reapproving uses of pesticide linked to brain damage in children EPA's scientific integrity in question over science rule MORE barring academics from serving on the board if they received agency grants for their research.


A list of new appointees released Wednesday includes the usual cast of academics and state environmental and health officials. But it also adds Kenneth Mundt to the board, a consultant with Cardno ChemRisk who critics say has a history of working to discredit science on the harms of tobacco and a number of chemicals.

“Kenneth Mundt is pretty much a classic product defender. He has been employed by the chemical industry on pretty much every harmful chemical you can think of to defend it and to downplay the science on it,” said Genna Reed with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy.

Though Mundt is new to the board, he’s already being placed in a leadership role, assigned to chair the SAB’s chemicals subcommittee.

“They’re not even trying to hide that they are undermining all the independence of the Science Advisory Board. By placing him at the helm of the chemicals subcommittee they are basically announcing they are going to be pushing out peer reviews that are more favorable to industry.”

Mundt has worked to defend hexavalent chromium — the contaminant at play in the film "Erin Brokovich" — as well as formaldehyde and chloroprene, used in the production of synthetic rubber neoprene. Each has been linked with various types of cancer.

When he was hired to represent chloroprene manufacturer Denka, the Natural Resources Defense Council called Mundt “the right person for the job, having previously defended chemical and tobacco industries. As a consultant for Philip Morris and the tobacco industry, Mundt attacked the National Cancer Institute’s findings that low-tar cigarettes could cause lung cancer.”

Read more about the other appointments and promotions here


IN COURT: Conservation groups are planning to sue the Trump administration in order to spur endangered species protections for giraffes.

With as few as 69,000 adult giraffes remaining in the wild, environmentalists have filed multiple suits over the last few years to push the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect the species, something they say will inhibit trade for hunting trophies.

But after an April 2019 memo noting threats to the population, FWS has surpassed the one-year deadline to make a determination on whether to protect the species.

“As giraffe populations plummet, these extraordinary creatures desperately need the Endangered Species Act’s sturdy shield. But three years after we petitioned for protections, federal officials are still stalling on safeguards for everyone’s favorite long-necked mammal,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The notice of intent to sue filed by the center gives the agency 60 days to pursue protections for giraffes.

In its April memo last year, the service said it would weigh whether to protect giraffes after receiving substantial information on “potential threats associated with development, agriculture and mining. Other threats identified by the petition that the Service will seek to verify include commercial trade, recreational hunting, poaching, disease, small populations and genetic isolation.”

The announcement was followed by another effort to protect giraffes in August of last year after the U.S. signed on to a measure requiring countries to issue export permits ensuring any giraffe hide or bones are legally acquired and that the trade is not detrimental to the survival of wild giraffes. The multilateral trade agreement will regulate and track, but not halt or prohibit, trade in giraffes and hunting trophies. 

FWS never followed through on its April memo, though, leaving the U.S. a destination for giraffe hunting trophies that would become more limited if the species were protected.

Read more on the suit here


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