Read More: Trump Takes Aim at Obama’s Climate Legacy
While the choice of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state upset environmental groups, Tillerson has emerged as a comparatively moderate voice in the administration, including advocating for the U.S. to remain in the landmark Paris Agreement. At the Heartland Conference, that stance has erased any residual goodwill from his stint running a multi-national oil company.
“Secretary of State Rex Tillerson think it’s really nice to be able to go to international meetings and pal around with his fellow foreign ministers,” Ebell said. “Rex Tillerson may be from Texas and he may have been CEO of Exxon, but he’s part of the swamp.”
As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times and he has personally questioned the science behind climate change. Yet, his methodical approach to dismantling many EPA regulations and functions has come in for criticism. While Lehr called Pruitt a “good choice,” he accused him of moving too slowly.
Trump has taken a number of steps to advance his environmental agenda, which includes some of the priorities Ebell laid out in the transition. Trump’s proposed budget defunds a wide range of EPA programs and calls for widespread layoffs. On March 28, he signed a sweeping executive order that calls for the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan with an eye toward eliminating it, kills a metric for assessing the economic effects of carbon dioxide emissions known as the social cost of carbon and rethinks how policymakers consider climate change.
Trump’s actions come as the scientific consensus about the existence and causes of climate change has become virtually unanimous. Nearly every leading nation has committed to address it, while the international business community, including many oil and gas companies, have acknowledged the issue is real and needs to be dealt with.
But you would not know any of that from talking to people at the Heartland conference. Discrediting climate science and the people who practice it was a central aim of many of the conference’s speakers. Their arguments varied. Some acknowledged that humans contribute to warming but said the effect is so minimal it should be ignored. Others disputed that earth is warming at all. And some speakers and attendees argued that carbon dioxide emissions, which leading scientists consider the primary driver of global warming, are actually beneficial to humans and the planet.
These positions hold little water with the mainstream scientific community. A 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body charged with reaching a consensus view on global warming, suggests that scientists are essentially 100% certain that global warming is occurring and 95% certain that it is man-made. Scientists say the evidence has only mounted since then.
Still, those who deny the science behind climate change are in a position to influence U.S. policy for years to come. Trump does not have a science advisor and his administration has turned to skeptics for guidance on energy and environmental policy issues. Lehr, who says the greenhouse effect plays a negligible role in the climate, delivered a presentation to administration officials designed to help Trump defend his claim that climate change is hoax.
“Every administration is a mixed bag,” Ebell tells TIME. “I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. I would say I am anxious.”