Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

The oil and gas industry and its allies might need to develop a new PR campaign and rebrand the way they try to convince New Mexicans to save their dying industry. On November 30 a group of 200 individual educators in all job categories sent Leland Gould, president and CEO of the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association (NMOGA), a letter. The group of educators urged NMOGA and its allies to stop standing in the way of aggressive action to address climate change and to stop pretending educators and students were solely on their side.

They requested the industry and its allies “immediately stop using New Mexico teachers and kids as excuses for more O&G development.” They said they would continue to urge elected leaders to move as quickly as possible to make significant changes to the state’s energy and revenue systems.

The campaign in question is the Safer and Stronger public relations campaign, which is a lobbying project of the NMOGA to bolster the development of oil and gas resources. Among other statistics propped up in the campaign are claims of $1.4 billion of the state’s education funding comes from the fossil fuel industry.

“As educators we have dedicated our lives to our students. We are deeply concerned about the impacts of climate change like extreme drought, wildfires and air pollution, and what that will mean for future generations,” the coalition of eductors wrote.

The group let Gould know they were extremely disappointed to see the O&G industry and its allies use educators and students as props in campaigns against progress on climate and clean energy policies—particularly its use against President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s efforts to pause new O&G leasing and change the O&G leasing program. They said O&G and its allies used the same misleading tactics to block legislation to diversify state revenues.

They noted recent campaigns sought to scare the public and educators alike about the impacts of those policies using industry-funded, discredited and inaccurate data. “The use of student images in schools, giving the impression that New Mexico’s educators support O&G’s one-sided position, is disingenuous and misleading to the public.”

The group pointed out that an analysis from the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee showed that New Mexico has seen virtually none of the impacts from the leasing pause that the industry predicted. “With royalties and production of oil and gas in New Mexico at record levels, we believe now this the perfect time to begin moving away from oil and gas,” they said.

In the General Fund Revenue Tracking Report, the committee looked at revenue accruals through May 2021. The report showed general fund recurring revenues for FY21 through May were $6.92 billion, which was nearly the equivalent to the same period a year ago—only $0.3 million less, or less than a tenth of a percent.

The group told NMOGA that relying so heavily on one industry has had negative consequences for students, as school funding has risen and fallen along with the industry’s fortunes. And whether students receive services should never depend on the price of a commodity.

“For education to succeed, we need our elected leaders to diversify our revenue sources, so that teacher salaries and classroom resources are not taken for a ride every time there is a boom and eventual bust cycle in the oil and gas industry,” they said.

The group of educators says they support the science of the transition of New Mexico, the U.S. and all nations away from fossil fuels to clean energy alternatives and using less oil and gas. “Science shows that immediate cuts must be made to our carbon emissions, which means we must transition rapidly to clean energy alternatives and use less oil and gas. We wholeheartedly support this transition.”

The coalition went on to proclaim that, “New Mexico children deserve an education system from early childhood through higher education funded by stable and consistent sources of revenue which do not also contribute to endangering their future on this planet and our own Land of Enchantment.”

NMOGA has not responded to how much money it spent on lobbying efforts, which include the Safer and Stronger project.