School Officials to Biden: Banning Oil, Gas Leasing on Federal Land Harms Education Funding

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Education officials from four western states and Alaska sent a letter to President Joe Biden this week to point out that banning oil and gas leases on federal lands not only hurts economies but takes away vital funding for schools.

The letter begins by pointing out that while it may seem unusual to hear from school officials over domestic energy production, it is, in fact, vital to educate the president on just how widespread the damage would be if he follows up on his promise to ban oil and gas leasing on federal land.

This includes the Department of Interior’s Order 3395, which places a moratorium on new mining, oil, and gas leasing and permitting on federal lands, and Section 208 of the Climate Crisis Executive Order, which puts a “pause” on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters and allows for review and reconsideration of federal oil and gas permitting and leasing.

The letter is signed by Jillian Balow, Wyoming elected state superintendent; Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota elected state superintendent; Elsie Arntzen, Montana elected state superintendent; Michael Johnson, Alaska governor-appointed state commissioner; and Sydnee Dickson, Utah board-appointed state superintendent.

It reads, in part: 

As state education chiefs we have appreciated generous access to your education transition team and we had multiple opportunities to discuss schools safely reopening, student well-being, and academic priorities. We are also enthused that U.S. Secretary of Education nominee, Miguel Cardona, most recently served as a state education chief, and well understands the critical leadership role that we have as state leaders. We look forward to working collaboratively on many education issues. Thus, it is imperative that we bring to light the arbitrary and inequitable move to shut down oil and gas production on federal lands in our states that depend on revenues from various taxes, royalties, disbursements, and lease payments to fund our schools, community infrastructure, and public services.

The letter then provides details about the losses in those state:

● In Wyoming, the oil and natural gas industry contributed $740 million in funding for K-12 education and $28 million to Wyoming’s higher education system in 2019. 92 percent of all natural gas and 51 percent of oil produced in Wyoming comes from federal lands. The ban translates into the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for education and 13,300 direct jobs in a state of 500,000.

● In Montana, $30 million in revenue is at-risk, along with over 3,000 jobs.

● In North Dakota, the lease moratorium would result in 13,000 lost jobs over four years, along with $600 million in lost tax revenue and a $750 million loss in personal income. North Dakota’s oil and gas industry accounts for 24,000 direct jobs in the state.

● In Utah, $72 million in revenue is at risk with 11,000 jobs at stake.

● In Alaska, over $24 million in state revenue is tied to federal leases for oil and natural gas, along with 3,500 jobs.

The letter continues:

As state education chiefs, we place equity and quality at the forefront of policy making. Wevcare deeply about clean air and clean water for future generations. And, we advocate fiercely for adequate funding for all students in all schools. Reform of the industry is necessary and can be accomplished, but not by abruptly restricting industries that define our culture and the generate revenue on which so many rely.

Mr. President, as state education leaders, we are uniquely positioned to think about how to support and fund education for the next generation. Given support by your administration, in the form of an exemption from orders that diminish the oil and natural gas industry, our states can continue to diversify and innovate the industry and fund education. Our shared goals are a reduced global carbon footprint, protected wildlife, and quality educational opportunities for all children.

The letter concludes that the signatories look forward to hearing back from the president.

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