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The keynote speaker for Uintah County's annual Uintah Basin Energy Summit is a controversial climate-change denier noted for right-wing propaganda and smear campaigns against scientists who warn about global warming.
Marc Morano who will join several prominent speakers at the Vernal conference, which runs Wednesday and Thursday has been criticized for scolding on his blog scientists who warn of climate change, then releasing their personal emails, resulting in threatening messages.
He once was chastised by former Wisconsin Republican Rep. Steve Gunderson for a column he wrote about a fundraiser for AIDS victims in which he insisted there were illegal drugs and illegal sexual activity, but no such evidence ever emerged. Morano had attended that event on behalf of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called a hate group for its attacks on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Morano worked for Rush Limbaugh in the 1990s, then Cybercast News Service, where he published the since-debunked Swift Boat Veterans' attacks on 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's record in Vietnam.
He served as director of communications for Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, one of the Senate's most ardent climate-change deniers.
Morano, who has no formal education in climate science, also founded and became executive editor of Climate Depot, a website devoted to countering climate scientists' warnings about global warming. In 2012, Media Matters dubbed him "Climate-Change Misinformer of the Year."
Morano recently produced the documentary "Climate Hustle," which is a stinging rebuke of climate-change forecasters. Critics have panned the film as a mere promotion for those whose interests are advanced by the denial of climate change.
His appearance as keynote speaker at a government-sponsored event on energy issues has raised alarms from environmental groups who warn he is no expert but merely a propagandist for a particular political ideology.
"I could see it if an oil and gas association brought him in to speak to their skepticism about the climate-change argument," said Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah. "But this is a government-sponsored event, and he is being paid with taxpayer money."
Event sponsors include the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), Utah State University, the Governor's Office of Energy Development, the Governor's Office of Economic Development and Rocky Mountain Power.
Pacenza noted that Rocky Mountain Power has gone out of its way to show that it is working for reduced emissions. Its parent company signed a pledge with 12 other major corporations to commit $140 billion in new low-carbon investment.
"Rocky Mountain Power has sponsored the Uintah Basin Energy Summit for a number of years as part of its support of the community and customers we serve in the region," the utility's spokesman, David Eskelsen, said in a statement. "The company does not have input regarding the agenda of the event nor do we tell organizers who they should or should not invite to speak."
Sylvia Wilkins, of Uintah County Travel and Tourism, said sponsors try to include a variety of speakers.
"Having Marc Morano as our keynote speaker does not mean that his views are shared or endorsed by Uintah County and its governing officials. The energy summit takes place because of the many industry partners and stakeholders that come together to sponsor the event."