Last month, TPM reported the news that Utah state Rep. Jack Draxler (R) is sponsoring a bill to educate elementary school kids about the benefits of the oil and gas industries. "Mineral literacy," he calls it. Money for the program would come out of a fund currently paid for by the oil industry to reclaim or plug abandoned wells -- a fund he says often runs a surplus. Draxler's bill was approved unanimously two weeks ago by the state House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee, and now moves on to a full state House vote. Yesterday, Draxler took a little time to talk to TPM about his efforts.
"The critical reason [for the bill] is balance," Draxler told TPM in an interview. "I believe that the development of natural resources sometimes gets an unjust black eye."
"They are being taught a lot about recycling and conservation and global warming," he said, adding that he did not oppose students learning about those things. "But very few of them know about the petroleum industry and the mining industry."
In Draxler's view, students hear that the mineral industries are destroying the environment and adding to global warming, while taking for granted the benefits of those same industries.
"Most of them," he told The Salt Lake Tribune, "don't know their iPods, their toothbrushes, their homes and their roads are all products of this kind of natural resource development."
The Tribune quoted one anti-pollution activist calling the bill a "horrible mistake" and another saying "it looks like a lack of balance."
But in his conversation with TPM, Draxler said critics were wrong about the bill's intentions. Environmentalists "should not be threatened" by the bill, he said. He claimed to be one of the more "environmentally conscious" members of his committee, and said "it's ironic that people are saying you're just a shill for the industry."
"My bill is simply saying let's develop some materials for teachers, and maybe even some workshops down the road, where they can learn these things and teach them to the kids," Draxler said. "It won't be mandatory, it's not being forced into the curriculum."
Draxler said his funding request for the first year of the program would be $100,000, which would be used toward developing the materials. He said Oklahoma had a similar program which could serve as a model, but that it would be up to those charged with developing the program to come up with the right kind of materials -- and he hopes teachers will be part of the process.
"This money comes out of that surplus with absolutely no strings attached," he said. "The industry has absolutely no say."
But why elementary school kids? Draxler said he hoped to one day have K-12 programs, and he conceded that those who eventually develop the program might determine it to be more appropriate for older kids. Still, he argued, "I know elementary school kids are learning about science and earth science and those kinds of things."
Draxler told TPM that he does believe global warming is occurring, but that "the degree to which man is contributing to it or the degree to which man can change it -- I think the jury is still out." He says he reads and listens to people on "both sides" of the issue, and urged his constituents to do the same. He called it "absolutely wrong" for critics to label his proposal an "industry bill and industry whitewash."
"When they see the process and they see the bill they'll realize that," he concluded.