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Big Oil and the Public Schools

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This is disturbing, though not really surprising I suppose.

For years, Big Oil has cozied up to American public schools—and now they seem to be cashing in their chips. New emails appear to show that some elected officials in charge of public schools may have been helped in attacking the Biden administration’s recent decision to pause oil and gas leasing on federal land by powerful oil industry lobbying groups.

The emails, obtained by the watchdog group Accountable.us as part of a public records request, are exchanges from late January of 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 stats on oil impacts,” the first email from Kristen Hamman, the director of regulatory and public affairs at the North Dakota Petroleum Council, reads, referencing Ron Ness, the group’s president, who is also cc’ed. In the email, Hamman listed a series of statistics and employment numbers on the oil and gas industry in North Dakota and Wyoming.

“Thank you, Kristen!” Baesler responded to the statistics. “This is very helpful.”

A little over two weeks after that exchange, on Feb. 16, Baesler joined four other state superintendents from Alaska, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming (the former two are governor-appointed while the latter two are elected like North Dakota’s) in penning a letter to the Biden administration. Their letter was in protest of, curiously for five educators, the administration’s decision to ban fossil fuel leasing on federal lands. The letter described the five states as dependent “on revenues from various taxes, royalties, disbursements, and lease payments to fund our schools, community infrastructure, and public services,” and goes on to list statistics about fossil fuel money and education—using some of the same statistics and numbers sent to Baesler by the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Corporations buying off public education and making it part of their lobbying wing sounds like…..everything that is wrong with contemporary America. The New Gilded Age is a real blast.

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