(Adds comment about proposing Clean Power Plan replacement in paragraph 9)
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 continued to unwind Obama-era initiatives to fight global warming.
The agency had been working over the last several months to set up a "red team, blue team" debate on the science relating to manmade 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.
In June, Trump pulled the United States out of a global pact to fight climate change, saying the deal was too costly to the U.S. economy and would hurt the oil drilling and coal mining industries.
Pruitt is reportedly vetting a list of scientists that have expressed doubts over climate change to take part in the upcoming debates, including some that have been recommended by conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation.
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 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 plans to propose a "replacement" for the Obama-era rule. He previously only committed to considering a replacement.
But Pruitt has also 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 1/8Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 3/8 ... and adopted that as the core of the finding," Pruitt said.
He did not say whether he plans 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. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Marguerita Choy)