U.S. Chamber of Commerce representatives by now are used to some tough questioning when they confront a room full of journalists on issues related to climate change. So the Chamber’s Karen Harbert, head of the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, doubtless was not surprised.

Harbert shared a Saturday afternoon plenary at the SEJ conference with White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, who it ended up was the least of her challengers. Also on the panel was a take-no-prisoners Kieran Suckling, of the Center for Biological Diversity, and independent energy consultant Randy Udall, the latter of the famous Udall family of federal legislators past and present.

In the free flow of give and take, Suckling and Udall were vocal and eloquent in their criticisms of Obama administration handling — mishandling, in their view — of climate and energy policies, easily putting CEQ’s Sutley on the defensive. Their disdain for the Chamber’s role on climate issues was even more biting.

But it too took something of a backseat when the Q&As from the floor turned to Science magazine science writer Eli Kintisch.

In her brief formal remarks, the Chamber’s Harbert had insisted the group supports sustainable energy initiatives, but “we need to be respectful of how we get there.”

“Why do you support candidates who don’t support global warming?” Kintisch asked from the floor, adding that virtually all of the Chamber-supported candidates, primarily Republicans, reject the body of scientific evidence pointing to a significant human influence.

“This question disappoints me the most,” Harbert replied, objecting that continued “polarizing” of the climate debate — as she said had been the case with the narrowly passed House vote on the “Waxman/Markey” legislation — will “never get to the solution.”

“Answer the question,” Kintisch followed-up, prompting applause from conference attendees, many of whom are not accredited media and are not shy about demonstrating their own biases.

“The Chamber policy on climate change is abysmal,” said Udall, no wallflower when it came to making his own points.

Harbert’s protestations that the Chamber has backed a doubling of research funding for clean energy initiatives appeared unconvincing to many. And that included the persistent Kintisch, whose aggressive and persistent follow-ups demonstrated to some up-and-coming reporters in the room an example of the kind of tough questioning that makes reporters heroes among their peers … and often something far less than that among those they are grilling.