Standing in front of a crowd of influential climate science deniers and conspiracy theorists, Myron Ebell was in a triumphant mood.
“It’s the people who have worked persistently against global warming alarmism that made this election possible,” said Ebell, referring to the election of Donald J. Trump as president.
Ebell was handpicked by Trump to lead the “transition team” at the United States Environmental Protection Agency and was one of a parade of speakers at the Heartland Institute’s conference in Washington, D.C. last week that included Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, chair of the House science committee.
But arguably the most influential people hanging around the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel were billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah.
Mercers Funding Climate Denial
The Mercer family were key financial backers of Trump’s successful presidential campaign, but were also key influencers in the makeup of Trump’s administration.
As key investors in Breitbart, the Mercers worked with that right-wing outlet’s former boss Steve Bannon, who is now Trump’s chief strategist.
The Mercer Family Foundation, led by Rebekah, has given heavily to climate science denial groups like Heartland.
Their latest $100,000 donation, declared in the Mercer Family Foundation's 2015 tax form, takes their financial backing of Heartland to more than $5 million since the first $1 million check was written in 2008.
As DeSmog has reported, the Mercers have also donated to several of the Heartland Institute conference sponsors, including the Heritage Foundation and the Media Research Center, which has received more than $13 million from the Mercer Family Foundation.
But as is the custom for Rebekah and Robert, they declined interview requests from journalists and stayed in the background of a conference characterized by no short measure of triumphalism mixed with some frustration that the Trump administration is not pushing even harder to pull apart regulations and rules tied to action on climate change.
One recipient of a Heartland Institute “lifetime achievement award,” marketing professor Scott Armstrong, even compared the world of climate science deniers to the heroic firefighters of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
Myron Ebell's Trump Transition Plan
Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was the man picked by Trump in September 2016 to prepare the EPA for his incoming administration.
He told the crowd he had been asked by Trump to work out how to turn more than 40 Trump campaign promises on energy, climate, and the environment into policies, and then find ways to implement them.
“We produced an advisory document that has no official status — it’s an official document and the title page has ‘Donald J. Trump Transition Team,’ but it’s confidential so I can’t tell you what’s in it,” he said.
But then Ebell reminded the crowd of the campaign promises that he had been tasked with translating into legislative action.
These, Ebell listed, included pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, defunding the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change and related climate programs, and withdrawing the EPA’s rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump intends to do most of this through executive orders starting now.
Ebell said withdrawing from the Paris agreement was a keystone measure that the Trump administration needed to implement.
Without it, he claimed that environmental campaign groups could use the signing of the Paris agreement as leverage in court challenges to other anti-climate measures proposed by the administration.
Rescinding the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations” was another vital move, said Ebell.
“We do have a problem,” warned Ebell, telling the crowd that “swamp creatures” were working hard to stop Trump’s promises from coming true.
He said it was vital that Trump pulled out of the Paris accord, but was dismayed that former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, now Secretary of State, had advocated for staying inside the United Nations agreement.
“Secretary Rex Tillerson may be from Texas and he may have been the CEO of Exxon, but he is part of the swamp,” he said.
As far as many mainstream media outlets are concerned, The Heartland Institute’s regular climate meetings — described by one attendee as the Woodstock for climate science denial, and long referred to here on DeSmog as “Denial-a-palooza“ — have been treated with either ridicule, contempt, or ignored completely over the years. And for good reason.
That so much interest has fallen on what could be described as an anti-science conference packed with ideologically driven fake experts, and that this conference attracted influencers like the Mercers, shows the rocky road ahead for climate policy.
But what is clear and should neither be forgotten or normalized, is the phenomenon that underpins these relentless calls for rolling back policies to regulate greenhouse gas emissions while promoting further and sustained use of coal, oil, and gas.
That phenomenon is climate science denial — the rejection of half a century or more of scientific inquiry that came to the conclusion decades ago that humans are impacting the climate in ways that will detrimentally change the planet and everything that lives on it.
Take another of the keynote speakers at this year’s conference — Lord Christopher Monckton. Monckton was a speaker at a conference in Arizona in December alongside Professor Will Happer, a reported candidate to be Trump’s science adviser, and other fringe dwellers, including a chemtrails conspiracy theorist.
The conference was organized by another conspiracy theorist, G. Edward Griffin, whose Freedom Force International group goes by a “creed of freedom” which, among many other extremist positions, thinks people should have the “freedom to accept or reject any currency, or other forms of money, based entirely upon my personal judgment of its value.” Happer was also a keynote speaker at the Heartland conference.
The foundation for the kind of measures being pushed by many in the Trump administration, and being advocated at the Heartland conference, is a rejection of modern science.
Only by denying the impacts of rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, can you then push for an unmitigated expansion of the fossil fuel industry.
Main image: A screengrab of Myron Ebell's speech to the Heartland Institute's conference in Washington DC.