BP’s Efforts to Shape Curriculum in American Schools

By Matt Howes

Originally posted on The MarkUp.

The Sacramento Bee reported yesterday that “BP, the energy giant responsible for the largest offshore oil spill in history, helped develop [California’s] framework for teaching more than 6 million students about the environment.”

That’s right; the same people who brought you the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster are helping to shape the education of millions of students. In fact, the environmental education curriculum will be used in “kindergarten through 12th-grade classes in more than 1,000 school districts statewide.”  

The thought of BP – or any big oil company – playing a role in designing education on environmental issues makes me very nervous. In California, we’ve got Texas oil companies spending millions of dollars trying to kill our landmark clean energy and climate law. That’s bad enough; we certainly don’t need a British oil company writing our kids’ education materials.

Dollie Forney, a mother of three from San Jose said, “This is outrageous. Now our schools and officials are so cash-strapped and unimaginative and desperate we are allowing Big Oil to write our children’s curriculum? ”

The fact is, over the years, BP has rightly earned the title of having “the worst safety and environmental record of any oil company operating in America.” Of course, that’s not much of an honor, especially when you consider how BP came by its miserable environmental reputation. This includes being slapped with “the two largest fines in OSHA history — $87.43 million and $21.36 million — for willful negligence that led to the deaths of 15 workers and injured 170 others in a March 2005 refinery explosion in Texas.” BP also “agreed to pay a $50 million fine and plead guilty to a felony violation of the Clean Air Act, and was fined “a total of $21 million for manipulating the California electricity market, Enron-style.”

It’s not a pretty picture. All of which raises the question, why would anyone even think of giving this company a say in designing education materials on the environment, of all topics? As Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy says, “I’d hate to see how a section in future textbooks mentioning the BP oil spill will look.”