In a conference room in a Denver hotel, oil and gas executives and lobbyists mingled over coffee with top state regulators at the annual Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) business meeting in May.
Arranged at a horseshoe shaped table facing the audience, the regulators began to introduce themselves and give updates on their states.
When it came time for Nebraska's oil and gas commission head Bill Sydow to give his update, he showed just how uncomfortably close government and industry officials are during IOGCC meetings. During a story about having Thanksgiving dinner with two German exchange students, Sydow made an important confession:
"I'm talking about climate change and global warming and I'm not a skeptic, I'm a denier. And so I'm talking to these two kids and they're like 'What are you talking about?' They have never heard another side to the issue."
It is troubling that someone responsible for protecting the people and environment of Nebraska would proudly proclaim themselves a denier of science and a denier of the most threatening impact of the industry he is supposed to regulate.
Also troubling was what happened next: the updates moved on without a hitch. No gasps. No consternation or disapproval from the gathered industry representatives and regulators.
In fact, it seemed that climate change science denial was right at home.
The IOGCC and Climate Change Denial
To understand why Sydow's comments were met with no concern whatsoever, it's important to understand a little bit about who was in the room that day.
Sydow was speaking at the business meeting of the IOGCC, a semi-governmental group made up of oil industry lobbyists and executives and state-level oil regulators. An investigation by Inside Climate News last April exposed the IOGCC as an unaccountable organ of the oil and gas industry, responsible for exempting fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act (the so called Halliburton Loophole) and generally acting as a "shadow lobby" for the industry.
Like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the IOGCC creates model legislation, which government-sector IOGCC members take back to their state houses and work to pass into law.
Even with IOGCC's status as an oil and gas "shadow lobby," one would think that outright denial of climate change science would be met with more scrutiny at a meeting funded by Exxon subsidiary XTO Energy. Exxon is currently under investigation in multiple states for a decades-long campaign to obscure the facts about climate change and promote exactly the kind of science denial expressed by Sydow.
Giving deniers like Sydow a platform could have real legal consequences for the company.
Much like the tobacco industry did with the dangers of smoking, Exxon stands accused of spending more than $30 million to support climate science denial groups, all while internally accepting that greenhouse gases released by fossil fuels were causing extreme damage to the climate. XTO was a "Gold Level" sponsor of the Denver IOGCC Business meeting.
As Steve Horn of Desmog points out, IOGCC meetings have a long history of supporting and disseminating the misinformation about climate change that Exxon helped create. IOGCC actually passed a climate change denial resolution in the year 2000.
"IOGCC passed a climate change denial resolution stating that 'there is continuing scientific debate as to what the impact of increasing contributions of greenhouse gases would be on the climate,' even issuing a press release after it passed."
IOGCC also hosted Bjorn Lomborg, a prominent climate change denier who has taken money from the Koch brothers, as a keynote speaker in 2002.
However, times have changed for IOGCC since the days of trying to pass anti-science legislation.
IOGCC's First Rule of Climate Change: Don't Talk About Climate Change
Currently, when you ask IOGCC about climate change, you get a variety of tortured responses. Sometimes they parrot the Republican talking point "we're not scientists," as IOGCC spokesperson Carol Booth did when asked by Inside Climate News. Sometimes they call the police on you, as they did when Horn attempted to conduct an interview on the subject.
In a letter to Desmog, IOGCC Executive Director Mike Smith said his organization "does not have a position on climate change" and is "not part of conversations on climate change."
At the Denver meeting, regulators like Matt Lepore -- head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission -- seemed reticent to discuss a topic so controversial to the IOGCC's fossil fuel funders, telling the Boulder Weekly that the IOGCC meeting was not the proper "venue" to talk about climate change.
So there you have it: climate change talk isn't welcome at the Exxon/XTO-funded IOGCC meeting, but climate science denial certainly seems to be.