America First Energy Conference Stacked With Climate Change Deniers

On November 9th, the climate change denying Heartland Institute is holding an energy conference in Houston to applaud the Trump Administration’s repeal of environmental protections and clean energy policy. According to its website, the conference will celebrate “this remarkable moment in history” referring to the statement that “Trump has already turned back years of Obama’s anti-energy policies”.

According to Heartland, the “country’s best energy policy experts” will be speaking at the event. In reality, there are rather few “energy policy experts” on the agenda. The lineup includes career climate change deniers such as Myron Ebell, Steve Milloy, H. Sterling Burnett, Paul Driessen, Craig Idso, and Fred Palmer. Our spoof of Heartland’s America First Energy conference exposes the illegitimacy of these “experts”, who range from hard line climate deniers to fossil fuel industry apologists.

Background on all the speakers can be found here.

Many speakers have deep ties to the Cooler Heads Coalition (CHC), a group of organizations that deny climate change and oppose policies to address it. From 1997-2015, the combined grants from ExxonMobil to CHC members top $11 million dollars. Since its inception, the coalition has used a variety of tactics to distort public opinion on climate change and influence decision making in Washington. For decades the coalition has authored biased reports, held briefings on Capitol Hill, and released weekly newsletters attacking “climate change alarmists”.

As reported Friday by the Houston Chronicle, two Trump Administration officials are slated to speak at the Heartland conference this week, Richard W. Westerdale II of the State Department and Vincent DeVito of the Department of Interior.

Richard W. Westerdale II, a senior advisor at the State Department, is listed as a speaker on the Heartland conference website. Westerdale is a former Exxon Mobil staffer and advised senior executives under the leadership of CEO Rex Tillerson, now Secretary of State.

David Bernhardt, deputy secretary of the Interior Department, was listed last week as a Heartland conference speaker, but apparently withdrew. Since 2009, Bernhardt was separately paid by twelve companies connected to the oil, natural gas, mining, or water industries for legal services. While a top DOI official in the Bush administration, Bernhardt pushed for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He has also ignored cautions by government scientists and used data from reports funded by BP during his 2001 testimony to Congress on Arctic drilling.

As Bernhardt disappeared from the Heartland conference website, Vincent DeVito appeared as a new speaker. DeVito currently serves as Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy, a newly created position within the Interior Department under the Trump Administration. As a private sector lawyer, DeVito spent over decade representing corporate energy interests, including a consortium of major oil companies.  DeVito also worked for the utility being sued “over the release of radiation from the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant explosion.”

Heartland has recently made headlines due to their campaigning for a “red-team blue-team” debate on climate change at the EPA. In such a debate, the “red-team” would challenge the scientific consensus on climate change and the “blue team” would defend the science. The Climate Investigation Center recently uncovered a list of names of ‘scientists’ and ‘economists’ submitted by the Heartland Institute to the EPA as recommendations for the “red-team”.

Judith Curry, a so-called “lukewarme” denier, who was included on Heartland’s “red-team” list, told E&E News that she liked the “red-team” concept but commented,

“Having Heartland’s name affiliated with this detracts from the potential credibility of it…By getting these third-rate people that are very far removed from any academic investigatory credentials is not going to help them, a lot of people who are advocates, not terribly objective people.”

A recently leaked internal Heartland Institute email revealed their anxiety and desperation that the Trump Administration, including Scott Pruitt, isn’t doing enough to kill policy action on climate change.

It will be interesting to see what tone they take in Houston.

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Posted by Kert Davies