How the oil and gas industry is trying to hold US public schools hostage | New Mexico – Advice Eating

The oil and gas industry wants you to play a word and picture association game. Think of four images: a colorful backpack full of pencils, a smiling teacher with a tablet under her arm, glasses on a stack of pastel-colored notebooks, and a shiny school bus welcoming a young student on board.

“What do they all have in common?” asked an April 6 Facebook post from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA). “They run on oil and natural gas!”

Here in New Mexico — the fastest warming and most arid state in the continental US, where wildfires have recently devastated over 120,000 acres and are not being contained — the oil and gas industry is springing into action to break the region’s reliance on fossil fuels to deepen . Their latest tactic: positioning oil and gas as the patron saint of education. Powerful interest groups have launched a month-long campaign to portray the well-being of schools and children as threatened when government officials violate fossil fuel production.

In an exemplary video spot for this strategy, Ashley Niman, a fourth grade teacher at Enchanted Hills Elementary School, tells viewers that the industry enables her to do her job. “Without oil and gas, we wouldn’t have the resources to provide our students with an exemplary education,” she says. “The partnership we have with the oil and gas industry makes me a better teacher.”

The video from September last year is part of a PR campaign by NMOGA called “Safer and Stronger”. It’s one of many similar strategies the Guardian has pursued across social media, television and audio formats, using a rhetorical strategy that social scientists have dubbed a “fossil fuel savior frame.”

“What NMOGA and the oil and gas industry are saying is that we are holding New Mexico’s public education system hostage to our for-profit interests,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “There is an implied threat.”

The oil and gas industry accounts for 4% of New Mexico’s GDP

Last year, New Mexico brought in $1.1 billion from mineral leasing on state lands — more than any other US state. But the tide could be turning for the fossil fuel industry as officials grapple with the need to halve greenhouse gas emissions this decade. Before mid-April, the Biden administration had suspended all new oil and gas leases, and drilling permits on public land were declining.

In response, pro-industrial groups are spreading what some experts have dubbed a “heaven is falling” message, suggesting that the state education system is on the brink without oil and gas revenues. NMOGA did not respond to comment.

Since February, NMOGA has been flooding its social media pages with school-related motifs such as buses and books, but also with images of empty, abandoned ones classroom accompanied by reminders of how state schools “depend on more than $700 million in oil and gas production on state lands.” Elected officials have parroted this framing. “This is critical for everyone, but especially for New Mexico schoolchildren who have been greatly affected by the pandemic,” State Representative Yvette Herrell wrote in Santa Fe New Mexican in February.

But experts on tax, budget and public education finance say it is fallacious to link the federal lease break to a serious, imminent risk to public education.

“Any minor cutback due to breaks or other so-called ‘adverse’ measures would have no immediate impact on overall school funding, let alone whether students are receiving the services they need to recover from the negative impact on their learning from the pandemic recover,” he told Charles Goodmacher, former director of government and media relations at the National Education Association (NEA), now a consultant. Selling leases will not result in immediate drilling, he said. Companies often sit in leases for months or years before production begins.

And as luck would have it, New Mexico currently has a budget surplus from record production.


IThe industry’s attempts to convince New Mexicos that the state’s public education system is entirely dependent on oil and gas are based on a hard truth: Decades of steep tax cuts have indeed made fossil fuels the thunder behind New Mexico’s Democrat-led economy made. In 2021, 15% of the general government treasury came from royalties, rents and other fees collected by the Department of the Interior from mining minerals on federal land. Oil and gas activities on federal, state and private property contribute about one-third of the state’s total fund of $7.2 billion and one-third of its education budget.

Line chart of payouts by state

Public Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, herself a former homeroom teacher, has been at the forefront of efforts to diversify the New Mexico economy since she was elected in 2018 to manage the state’s 13 million acres of public lands.

“When I ran in my first campaign, we talked a lot about how a school teacher really understands what every penny this office makes means to a classroom.”

Garcia Richard is proud to be the first woman, Latina, and teacher to be elected head of the office, which generates approximately $1 billion in revenue each year. Since 2019, she has established a Renewable Energy Bureau and an Outdoor Recreation Bureau to raise money from those activities, though Garcia Richard doesn’t think money will ever fully offset oil and gas revenues. “I don’t want anyone ever to think that I have any idea that the revenue diversification strategies we’re pursuing right now will somehow bring in a billion dollars.”

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, is another senior state official tasked with managing the state’s energy and economic transition.

Given the same geographic features that make New Mexico the “Land of Enchantment,” the state has poise to become a national leader in solar energy, Balderas said. But four of the state’s largest solar farms are severely behind schedule.

Balderas, who has accepted $49,900 in campaign contributions from oil and gas over seven election cycles, said a sudden disruption in new oil and gas leasing like the blanket moratorium originally proposed by the Biden administration in January last year would have outsized implications would have on New Mexico is most vulnerable.

“You would save almost a third of the revenue we depend on to fund our schools, our roads and our law enforcement agencies,” he said. “I don’t think environmentalists really think about that perspective: how progressives have cleaner air, but then push Native Americans, like Native American pueblos, into further economic poverty.”


SSome on the receiving end of the oil and gas revenue emphasize that not all educators and students accept fossil fuel industry money in public schools. Mary Bissell, an algebra teacher at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, who along with more than 200 educators, signed a letter in November urging NMOGA to “stop using New Mexico’s teachers and children as an excuse for more oil.” – and to use gas evolution”. .

Bissell says despite how tight schools may be, many of her colleagues don’t want oil and gas money. “I’m not going to teach my kids how to use fracking to find slopes,” she said of her math classes. Bissel called NMOGA’s attempt to portray educators as a unified force committed to oil and gas finance “disgusting.”

In some states, including Rhode Island and Massachusetts, prosecutors have taken it upon themselves as chief law enforcement and consumer protection officials to sue oil and gas companies for misleading consumers and investors about climate change through their marketing. Balderas’ office said it is not actively pursuing this strategy at this time.

Seneca Johnson, 20, a student leader at Youth United for Climate Action (Yucca), hails from the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma. Johnson grew up in New Mexico and knows the state’s underfunded schools firsthand. “I remember we had a list in elementary school: bring three boxes of tissues or crayons,” she said, speaking of Chaparral Elementary School in Santa Fe. “As a student and as a teacher [you’re] Buying the materials for the classroom.”

Johnson recalls being told as a child that she attended schools second nationwide. If New Mexico’s education system is, in fact, that bad, she said, how can officials continue to think it’s a good idea to accept a funding structure that delivers such consistently poor results?

“At the end of the day, the system that we have now, which is paid for in oil and gas, doesn’t work and we know it doesn’t work,” Johnson said. “It’s the whole ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you’ mentality,” she said, tying the industry’s condescending message surrounding its support for schools to a direct legacy of colonization.

“I don’t want to have to rely on this external authority. I don’t want to have to rely on this broken system. I want better things for my children and their children and my entire community.”

  • This story is being published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets strengthening coverage of the climate story

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