The Talks Heat Up

All winds have swept through a state-sponsored and federally funded series of forums on global warming and its alleged effect on climate change. Complaints that the first two of six scheduled forums at various Colorado cities were either biased in favor of the manmade global-warming theory or sabotaged by industry opponents resulted in the postponement of the final four.

The forums are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of a three-phase initiative aimed at developing "comprehensive climate change" strategies at the state level. They are presented by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (DPHE). The first two forums, both in October, were in Steamboat Springs and Pueblo. The presenters repeatedly claimed they were not trying to promote "an agenda," just the facts.

But critics who attended the forums contend that the presentations were heavily weighted toward supporting the 1995 U.N.-sponsored International Panel on Climate Change report concluding that man has made a "discernible impact" on climate change. Not everyone agrees that the facts support that conclusion.

Of course, the forum critics cannot lay claim to much objectivity themselves. Chief among them is People for the West, which bills itself as a national grassroots organization dedicated to bringing an economic balance to environmental solutions.

"We support the use of natural resources by mining, ranchers, oil and gas companies," says spokeswoman Sue Christy. "We don't believe those people should be put out of business or jobs to save every last bit of the environment." People for the West, formed in the late Eighties, is a nonprofit organization, she adds, supported by 23,000 "grassroots" members primarily in eleven Western states and "corporate donations...such as from mining interests."

Christy says People for the West was warned about the forums after the Steamboat meeting by a Denver lobbying group called the Center for Environmental and Energy Development, which is sponsored by coal and railroad interests.

The forums received little prior publicity and were sparsely attended. Only about fifty people attended the Pueblo meeting, Christy says. Eighty percent of them were global-warming-theory opponents, many of them associated with People for the West. "A lot were from industry," she adds. "And some were grassroots." The rest of the forums were then postponed by DPHE director Patti Shwayder.

Christy says that the forums were postponed because the department realized that the presentations weren't balanced or fair.

But Cindy Parmenter, a spokeswoman for the department, says it was because representatives of the coal industry and other businesses took over the meetings and prevented a balanced discussion.

"We tried to be balanced," Parmenter says. "But we may have not been as pure as the driven snow, and we have some fine-tuning to do."

The department is reviewing the presentation, and the forums may begin again in a new form, with both sides being given a set amount of time "to bring in their scientists and present their information."

The EPA climate-change initiative would provide as much as $225,000 to each of the 25 states that are cooperating. Phase I was for each state to inventory its additions to greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Some scientists say that man's addition to naturally occurring greenhouse gases--particularly carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor--will raise the temperature of the planet 6 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next fifty years.

Phase II involves the statewide forums to discuss the issue and, possibly, propose solutions. Colorado received $25,000 for the forums, which, after Steamboat and Pueblo, were to be held in Fort Collins, Glenwood Springs, Sterling and Denver.

Phase III offers the carrot of federal money to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But Colorado never finished the second phase, apparently because of the controversy over whether man-caused global warming is a real threat.

The forums are seen as part of the Clinton/Gore publicity campaign to convince the American public of global warming's potentially disastrous effect on climate change. Clinton has promised that the United States will agree to binding emissions reductions at a meeting of United Nations representatives in Kyoto, Japan, next month.

Opponents of the treaty contend that it could cost the U.S. billions of dollars and a million jobs, while developing countries will not be held to the same standards. Proponents fear that unless developed countries, particularly the United States, cut back their emissions, global warming could cause worldwide economic disruption and population displacement.

Those who challenge the objectivity of the forums note that EPA administrator Carol Browner once worked on Gore's Senate staff and has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Gore's expected presidential bid in 2000. Gore has made no secret that he would run on his reputation as an environmental champion, particularly of the cause to avert global warming.

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