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Energy Summit Speaker Sparks Controversy Before Utah Appearance

The Uintah Basin Energy Summit takes place this week, and the controversy’s started even before the program begins. That’s because Wednesday’s keynote speech is being given by prominent climate change denier, Marc Morano.

He’s a conservative blogger who’s made a career of disputing climate science and the people who take it seriously. His ideas – and in-your-face style -- are included in the 2015 film, Climate Hustle.

“I think it’s good to get information from all sides” says Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee, whose county is hosting the two-day conference. “This is an energy summit. There’s science out there on both sides of this, and I’m anxious to see what his presentation is and see where that goes.”

McKee says extractive industries account for 60 percent of his county’s economy and 50 percent of its jobs.

That’s a big reason why the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration is a conference sponsor, according to the organization’s deputy director Kim Christy.

“We definitely don’t feel it’s out of line with our responsibilities in managing our portfolio,” he says.

The state Office of Energy Development, which is also sponsoring the conference as a show of support, noted in a statement: “ our views on climate change do not align with those of Mr. Morano.”

Both agencies say they had no role in selecting the speakers.

Meanwhile, others doubt the value of Morano’s message. Utah State University physicist, Rob Davies, describes Morano as a “paid confusionist” and sees the keynote speech as a missed opportunity for the energy industry and eastern Utah.

“They deserve really good information as to what the potential changes are and why,” says Davies. “And I just can’t see someone like Marc Morano bringing constructive, good information to those communities on this topic.”

That’s a view shared by Barry Bickmore, a Brigham Young University geologist.

“They’re just bringing in somebody who can give them a really good sales pitch for what they want to hear,” says Bickmore. “In a way, though, it’s sad because they could be preparing for the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels.”

A few years ago in his blog, Climate Asylum, Bickmore detailed how Morano’s frequent assertion is incorrect that there’s widespread disagreement among climate scientists on global warming.

KUER requested a comment from Morano but was not successful in getting one.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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