For years, Big Oil has rubbed shoulders with the American public schools – and now they seem to be cashing in their chips. New emails seem to show that some elected officials in charge of Public schools may have been aided in attacking the Biden administration’s recent decision to suspend leasing of oil and gas on federal lands by powerful oil industry lobby groups.
the e-mails, obtained by watchdog group Accountable.us as part of a request for public records, are exchanges starting at the end of January this year between Kirsten Baesler, the superintendent of public schools in North Dakota, and two members of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, an industry advocacy group in the state.
“Ron wanted me to send you some ND statistics on the impacts of oil,” Kristen Hamman’s first email, the ddirector of regulatory and publique onefairs at the North Dakota Petroleum Council, reads, referring to Ron Ness, the group’s chairman, who is also cc’ed. In the email, Hamman listed a series of statistics and figures on employment in the oil and gas industry in North Dakota and Wyoming.
“Thanks, Kristen!” Baesler responded to the statistics. “It’s very useful.”
A little over two weeks after this exchange, on February 2. 16, Baesler joined four other state superintendents from Alaska, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming (the first two are appointed by the governor while the last two are elected like that of North Dakota) in write a letter to the Biden administration. Their letter was to protest, oddly for five educators, the administration’s decision to ban the rental of fossil fuels on federal lands. The letter described the five states as dependent “on revenues from various taxes, fees, disbursements and lease payments to fund our schools, community infrastructure and public services,” and went on to list statistics on fossil fuel money. and education – using some of the same statistics and figures sent to Baesler by the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
“Thanks, that’s fantastic,” Ness sent Baesler on February 2. 22, with the text of the director’s letter pasted in the body of the email.
The North Dakota Petroleum Council, the organization website states, is partially sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil and gas industry lobbying organization in the United States.S. At the time the North Dakota Petroleum Council emailed Baesler, the API was busy promoting various elements of the even information on Facebook. The API, of course, has recently made headlines for its support for a Carbon tax, as part of a seemingly industry-wide push to present themselves as more ecological and carbon-free.
“Oil and gas executives love to talk about working with the Biden administration to tackle climate change, but these documents show behind closed doors that they are actively working to undermine that very effort,” said Kyle Herrig, president. from Accountable.US, in a Press release.
An API spokesperson denied any involvement with the letter from the state superintendents to Salon, while Baesler told Salon that the information in the letter came from a separate source and that she had not coordinated with industry on the letter.
Big Oil has worked diligently for years to infiltrate the American education system and promote climate denial – with great success. The Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank whose work supported by the Koch brothers network, sent hundreds of thousands of copies of a book called “Why Scientists Disagree on Global Warming” to teachers across the country in 2017 full of climate deny talking points. Various oil-funded projects at the national and state levels have provided nightmarish children’s materials to educators, including a oil themed word search and a book on “Petro Pete”, the story of a guy who discovers “What would life be like if we didn’t have oil.” (Spoiler: All of his things are gone.)
It’s easy to laugh at Petro Pete, but this lobbying has real impacts. The petrochemical industry, led by API, has been targeting kindergarten to grade 12 education since the 1940s, and the letter from these superintendents reflects the success of the effort to entangle education in the oil stranglehold. Free lesson plans, books, and other materials and resources – regardless of their source – are likely a welcome addition to the classroom for cash-strapped public school districts and overwhelmed teachers. And many states have linked their education systems almost exclusively to fossil fuel income, with disastrous results. Wyoming, for example, faces a cavernous budget deficit for education as the coal industry collapsed, while the free fall in oil prices impacted students Texas at New Mexico.
Fossil fuel interests know that the the time has come to pay the bagpiper. Part of a just transition will be figuring out how to stop industry from lowering state budgets and our education system funded with.