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If a Wisconsin state Legislature controlled by Democrats couldn't pass a major bill to reduce fossil fuel emissions in 2010, you have to imagine it would be virtually impossible to get legislation combating climate change through the Republican-controlled legislature today.

There are signs, however, that at least some Republicans are keeping an open mind on the issue.

On Wednesday Rep. Jeffrey Mursau, R-Crivitz, the chair of the Assembly Committee on Environment and Forestry, will co-host a forum with the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, on the effects of climate change in Wisconsin.

The forum, which is closed to the media and public, will include testimony from a number of experts, including two UW-Madison climate scientists — Dan Vimont and Galen McKinley — and other environmental experts, such as Michelle Miller, associate director of the UW Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, and David Liebel, a UW engineering professor who specializes in storm water systems. 

"Our goal on this thing is to open the conversation with our colleagues about climate change," says Clark.

The forum has predictably sparked reactions from conservatives. Media Trackers, a conservative investigative website dedicated largely to attacking liberals, noted that the panel will not include any prominent skeptics of climate change. In a recent blog post, the group's lead writer, Brian Sikma, poked fun at Mursau's attempts to explain the forum to conservative Green Bay radio host Jerry Bader, noting that the lawmaker suggested that human activities could be causing global warming but that he also said that, in his "heart," he did not believe man was contributing to climate change.

"At times the veteran lawmaker sounded like he didn’t want to defend the climate change forum but yet couldn’t offer a clear, concise answer for why he wanted to host the event," wrote Sikma.

It is this type of controversy that Clark said he is trying to avoid by keeping the forum, which is not an official committee hearing, off-limits to media and the public.

"Unfortunately some of these extreme tea party groups are really threatening a lot of legislators who might even have an interest in coming to learn about this issue," he said. "This is a briefing for legislators. We want to dial down the expectations or the grandstanding as much as possible."

He confirmed that all panel participants likely adhere to the scientific consensus regarding climate change.

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"We realize that there are people who sort of deny the reality of climate change," he says. "There isn't anybody on that panel who's going to say that climate change isn't real."

He applauded Mursau for acting in a "bipartisan fashion" to gather facts on a major issue.

"He's doing what a responsible policymaker should do," he says.

Mursau was not available for comment.

Meanwhile, Sikma is trying his best to stoke controversy among conservatives about the meeting.

He has directed a number of tweets to leading national conservative think-tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, alerting them to the "secretive climate change forum," and he announced he would be discussing the event with conservative Madison radio talker Vicki McKenna (1310 WIBA-AM) on her afternoon drive-time show Monday.