Why is Oil Giant BP Helping Develop California Schools Environmental Curriculum?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Should an oil giant responsible for the worst oil spill in U.S. history play a role in what public-school children learn about the environment? If you’re in California, there’s a good chance they will. BP has helped develop a new environmental curriculum for California’s public schools. The curriculum will be taught to over 6 million pupils in some 1,000 districts. BP employees were part of a state-appointed team that crafted the programs’ guiding principles. Even before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, BP had one of the worst safety records of any major oil company operating in the United States. Over the past five years, the company paid more than $370 million in fines to avoid prosecution after admitting to breaking environmental and safety laws. 

AMY GOODMAN: In spite of all that, California state officials included BP on the technical team for the soon-to-be completed environmental education curriculum. Dubbed the Education and The Environment Initiative, the state’s curriculum project was launched in 2003 and has so far produced more than 13,000 pages of teaching material about the environment for K-12 science, social studies, and history courses. Lisa Graves is with us now, executive director for the Center for Media and Democracy. She’s been tracking the story – she’s joining us from Madison, Wisconsin.  Lisa, talk about the environmental curriculum of California and how BP got involved.

LISA GRAVES: It is very interesting. I think this is an example of how BP, until the oil spill, has been so successful at greenwashing. It’s actually one of the number one greenwashing companies form the oil company perspective, ever. They managed to turn their Beyond Petroleum logo and their millions of dollars in donations into becoming a “stakeholder” according to the California Department of Education, in educational policy in California. 

JUAN GONZALEZ: But what precisely was BP’s role in the curriculum development?
LISA GRAVES: BP had advisers who were appointed to key committees – to a key committee for the technical standards for the curriculum. They in essence, influenced the scope of what the curriculum would be in California. It also seems their presence influenced BP being reported positively, at least in the high school curriculum on environmental issues, for its donations to the University of California. And so rather than talk about BP’s safety record or BP’s record—who knows what it’s going to say about BP and the oil spill?  The text book appears to talk about BP’s donations to universities. 
JUAN GONZALEZ: And BP was the only oil company that was asked to supply members to this effort to develop the curriculum? If so, have state officials said why they chose it? 
LISA GRAVES: They have not said why they chose BP out of all the oil companies, although BP clearly has been on a “charm offensive” to the American public and California officials for many years now. But they are in fact the only oil company on this committee. They are one of several industries that were invited by California. They were considered by the organizers of this effort to be stakeholders in California educational policy, which is really a mystery—why BP should be considered a stakeholder in educational policy is just surprising and shocking, quite frankly.  
AMY GOODMAN: Has there been any change in attitude of BP or their involvement since the latest oil spill?    
LISA GRAVES: There does not appear to have been any change from the state of California. Clearly, people who have learned about Rick Daysog’s story by in the Sacramento Bee have expressed concerns about BP’s involvement and whether BP’s involvement results in positive coverage of BP or pulling punches about BP. Those are the concerns that we’ve raised and others have raised.    

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