In February, New Mexico’s 2019 Teacher of the Year Jessica Sanders wrote an op-ed for the Albuquerque Journal to “strongly encourage President Biden to reconsider” his pause on fracking on federal lands. It appeared independent enough on its face, in that there’s no disclosure of industry involvement. The fact that it was full of industry jargon — along with questionable claims from the oil industry, specifically the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association on how much revenue the state gets from the industry, for example, did make it seem pretty unusual for a (clearly gifted!) teacher.
But as we have learned since, the oil industry sought out local education officials to respond to President Biden’s move, organizing a letter from state superintendents of Alaska, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming, among other tactics. This coordination was exposed by emails obtained through open records requests, as Igor Derysh at Salon reported last month.
Noticeably absent from that reporting is the involvement of Sanders. Apparently Big Oil was a little disappointed that it didn’t get noticed though, and has graciously included the piece on a new “microsite” the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s PR-consultant run front group Energy in Depth recently launched.
The page helpfully collects all their local efforts into one place, so if you’re curious about the talking points they’re using, or the four main reports they (or, in this case, the spokespeople they’ve successfully placed in media) base their claims on, this is the place!
That’s where we found Sanders’ op-ed, in a “local voices” section, along with a statement from Wyoming state superintendent Jillian Balow (whose emails prove she worked with the industry), an op-ed by a father and son ranching duo in the Santa Fe New Mexican, and a piece the industry labels as a voice from “Small Businesses” in the Albuquerque Journal.
Also listed in the section on pieces by “Representatives” they’ve programmed to repeat the petro-party line is a Fox News op-ed by Reps. Steve Scalise and Yvette Herrell, the latter of whom is cited by Jessica Sanders while delivering a (fake) stat about the state’s supposed job losses from Biden’s executive order. It's one of main overlaps between these pieces that suggest they’re all pulling from those four reports the industry funded to provide exactly this sort of cover.
But if you’d prefer not to read, there are the YouTube videos, essentially supercuts of the various supposedly-everyday-spokespeople and politicians the industry has successfully roped into being the human face of its polluting profits on various local TV news stations.
Jessica Sanders may have been 2019’s Teacher of the Year, but apparently she still needs to learn a thing or two about not being a cog in the climate denial machine.