(Adds comment from Democratic congressman, paragraph 6)
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could launch a public debate about climate change as soon as January, Administrator Scott Pruitt said on Thursday, as the agency unwinds Obama-era initiatives to fight global warming.
The agency had been working over the past several months to set up a "red team, blue team" debate on the science relating to man-made climate change to give the public a "real-time review of questions and answers around this issue of CO2," Pruitt said.
"We may be able to get there as early as January next year," he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee during his first congressional hearing since taking office.
Pruitt and other senior members of President Donald Trump's administration have repeatedly cast doubt on the scientific consensus that carbon dioxide (CO2) from human consumption of fossil fuels is driving climate change, triggering rising sea levels, droughts, and more frequent, powerful storms.
He has also moved to bar scientists from serving on independent agency advisory boards who have previous won EPA grants, a move critics say favors scientists who work with regulated industries.
"EPA has all the signs of an agency captured by industry," U.S. Representative Paul Tonko of New York, the top Democrat on the House energy panel, said at the hearing.
An EPA official did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the selection of scientists.
The debate would come as the EPA proposes to rescind the Clean Power Plan, former Democratic President Barack Obama's main climate change regulation that was aimed at reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
On Thursday, Pruitt said the agency planned to propose a "replacement" for the Obama-era rule. He previously only committed to considering a replacement.
But Pruitt has been under pressure from conservative climate change skeptics in Congress to go further and upend the scientific finding that CO2 endangers human health, which underpins all carbon regulation.
At the hearing, Pruitt said there was a "breach of process" under the Obama administration when it wrote its 2009 "endangerment finding" on CO2, because it cited the research of the United Nations climate science body.
"They took work from the U.N. IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] ... and adopted that as the core of the finding," Pruitt said.
He did not say whether he planned to try to undo the finding, which legal experts have said would be legally complex.
Pruitt told Reuters in July the debate could be televised.
I (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Peter Cooney)
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