After frustrating Democratic Senators by not providing substantive answers to a variety of questions, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett did provide some small insight about her views on climate change during her confirmation hearing Wednesday.
Climate change issues impact the decisions made by automotive industry executives in a variety of ways, ranging from what types of vehicles to produce to manufacturing facility construction to energy usage. Knowing Barret’s bent on the topic could be helpful to automakers looking to make long-term decisions because if approved, Barrett could have a substantial impact on future court decisions, and by extension, actions taken by automakers.
Barrett, who was nominated for the lifetime appointment by President Donald Trump, managed to avoid providing specific answers to questions on a broad range issues, such as health care, government regulation and voting rights during the 20 hours of testimony spread over two days.
However, her modest answers on climate change appeared to shore up her conservative credentials, which had earned her the support of The Federalist Society long critical of the science behind claims of about “man-made” global warming, while stoking the fears of environmentalists.
Sen. John Kennedy (R- Louisiana), who is a strong partisan of the oil and gas industry, asked if she has “opinions on climate change.” Barrett replied saying she’s “not a scientist” and that she does not have “firm views on it.”
Democratic Senators also quizzed Barrett about climate change, including Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California), who is running for Vice President on the Democratic ticket with former Vice President Joe Biden.
Harris ran down a list of the damages done from the fires linked climate raging across her home state, noting the fires had killed fire fighters and the destruction of 9,000 homes. Harris pressed Barrett, asking whether “climate change is happening and it is threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Barrett replied she was not going to answer the question, saying that it is “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.”
“I do not think 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,” she said.
Climate change is implicated by a broad array of scientific experts for disappearing glaciers, the rapid disappearance of ice in the arctic, rising sea levels, extreme weather events such as tornadoes and hurricanes.
The threat of climate change also has triggered a technological revolution in the auto industry, which is being pressed to zero out carbon-based emissions by regulators, governments and consumers not just in the U.S, but all over the world.
It also divided the auto industry with carmakers such as General Motors and Toyota, calling for one fuel economy standard and other such as Ford and BMW, supporting California’s more stringent emissions standards to help reduce their impact on climate change.
It’s possible that these divergent groups are likely to end up in a legal clash at some point, finding themselves arguing their positions before the Supreme Court — a court that could include Barrett. It’s not only the push by California and more than a dozen other states to employ stricter emissions guidelines, but also the federal government’s threats to strip those states of their ability to impose those restrictions.
Additionally, automakers are going to be faced with the consequences of the aforementioned efforts by other countries to reduce the impact of carbon emissions, particularly those in the European Union, by banning the sale of new vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel engines during the next two decades. Additionally, the move by Trump to bow out of the Paris Climate Accords acted as a catalyst for a move away from supporting pro-climate change efforts by the U.S. since his election in 2016.
Unsurprisingly, automakers have been quiet during the hearings; however, Barrett’s public non-answers stoked the concerns that environmental groups had about her.
“Any nominee who wants to be seriously considered for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land must – at a bare minimum – acknowledge and accept that climate change is real. It’s science, plain and simple,” said Courtney High of the Sierra Club, the granddaddy of environmental organization that have opposed Trump’s effort to undo environmental regulations.
Others point out that she’s got an established record of siding with industry to “undermine our environmental laws.” Earthjustice, an organization linked to the environmental movement deeply critical of Trump, suggested she’ll follow in the footsteps of former Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked in the late 1990s.
Scalia angrily filed an angry dissent in a 2007 Supreme Court case, Massachusetts vs EPA. The 5-4 decision allows states to control emissions of “greenhouse” gases and Scalia said it was wrongly decided.