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The Texas Climate Change Taboo

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Remember that government-sponsored “Cap & Trade Summit” in September? The one that featured nearly a full day of industry interests and their conservative “think-tank” counterparts bashing the Waxman-Markey climate change bill?

I recently obtained emails from the Public Utility Commission that confirmed my suspicions that PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman, who organized the event, went out of his way to exlude any discussion of the science behind climate change.

There’s nothing earth-shattering here – just more evidence that Gov. Perry’s appointees to the state’s major regulatory agencies are grossly uninformed about climate science and only communicate with people who already share their belliefs.

Here’s Smitherman instructing one of the presenters to “downplay … the issue of whether the earth is really warming.”

He goes on: “I too am a skeptic and have read all the material from criticisms of the temperature gathering boxes, to the effects of solar cycles, and urban heat islands. Bottom line, I have asked most of the panelists not to get bogged down in the debate about whether the earth is warming and whether man/woman is causing it.”

(Click for larger image)Smitherman email II

Here’s an email from Railroad Commission Chairman Victor Carrillo to Smitherman, in which Carrillo suggests that “Climate Change” be taken out of the name of the summit. “Barry was pretty clear that we weren’t going to get into the debate on whether ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ is a fact,” Carrillo writes.

Smitherman email III

Other emails make it clear that the real organizing muscle behind the summit was one Phillip Oldham, a lobbyist for the Texas Association of Manufacturers, Neste Oil and Texas Industrial Energy Consumers.

The following email shows just how cozy Smitherman is with Oldham, who practices law in front of the PUC.

Smitherman asks Oldham: “I keep hearing that Shell and BP are publicly for the bill but privately working against it. Do you know the real story?”

Oldham responsds: “I have some info. We’ll chat.”

Smitherman email IV

I’d love to know what lobbyist Oldham told regulator Smitherman. But of course they’d never risk putting such sensitive information in an email – the public might find out.

Recently, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), “It must be very lonely being the last flat-earther,” referring to Inhofe’s increasingly isolated position on climate even among fellow Senate Republicans.

I don’t think Milbank is familiar with Texas Republicans. It seems Texas will probably be the last place on earth still “debating” whether climate change is even happening.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.