The Energy 202: Amy Coney Barrett says she’s ‘not a scientist’ when asked about climate change

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett said late during her confirmation hearing Tuesday that while she has read up on the issue, she did not have “firm views” on global warming.

“I’m certainly not a scientist,” she said when asked by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) whether she had a personal opinion on the issue. “I mean, I’ve read things about climate change. I would not say I have firm views on it.”

The exchange was short, but to her critics her answer was telling.

The use of a boilerplate phrase often trotted out by Republican lawmakers – who often default to insisting they are not scientists – raised eyebrows among those concerned about how the 48-year-old judge will rule on climate cases should she get a lifetime appointment.

Jamal Raad, campaign director of the green group Evergreen Action, called her response “disqualifying.”

“It is a requirement that a Supreme Court Justice be able to review evidence to make a decision,” he said. “The scientific evidence of climate change is beyond reasonable doubt or debate, yet Amy Coney Barrett refused to acknowledge reality.”

A climate change case is already on the Supreme Court’s docket next year. It will hear a case involving several oil companies, including Dutch Royal Shell, being sued by the city of Baltimore, which is seeking to hold them financially responsible for their greenhouse gas contributions. Barrett’s father spent much of his own career as a lawyer for Shell.

Even before the hearing, legal experts predicted Barrett will be a roadblock to tougher environmental regulations.

Barrett only joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 2017. But those examining her brief judicial record say the conservative judge would make it harder for environmentalists to win at the Supreme Court.

A high court with a more solid 6-3 conservative majority may help cementTrump’s rollbacks of environmental regulations and even make it hard for a future Democratic administration to implement a plan to combat climate change.

Yet at least one of Trump’s other Supreme Court picks has acknowledged the scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet when speaking from the bench.

“The policy is laudable,” Brett Kavanaugh, then an appellate court judge, said in 2016 when hearing a case on Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. “The earth is warming. Humans are contributing.”

This was not the only time environmental issues were raised in the hearing.

Earlier in the day, a Democratic senator decried a network of “dark money” donors from the oil and other industries helping pick Supreme Court nominees.

Wielding posters and a Sharpie, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings are a “puppet theater” in which donors, including fossil fuel executives, are “pulling strings.”

Their goal, according to the senator, is to kneecap the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies from issuing and enforcing strong regulations by getting judges sympathetic to corporate interests on the court.

Whitehouse cited a report from our colleagues Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg describing how the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo helped nonprofit organizations raise $250 million from mostly anonymous donors in recent years to promote conservative causes.

Those organizations have, in turn, cultivated a generation of right-wing judges, including Barrett, who Trump and Senate Republicans have elevated to the federal bench.

“Something is not right around the court,” he said, using his entire 30 minutes of questioning time to talk without asking Barrett anything, “and dark money has a lot to do with it.”

“If you’re a big polluter, what do you want?” he added. “You want weak regulatory agencies.”