DATE: June 11, 2021
SNIP: Next week, dozens of teachers from North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota, and Iowa will descend on Bismarck State College in North Dakota for the annual three-day Lignite Energy Council Teacher’s Seminar.
There, according to materials posted on the seminar’s website, they’ll hear presentations and panel discussions on coal’s history, geology, mining and reclamation, as well as hearing about the “career opportunities, environmental challenges, transmission and research and development topics.” The seminar, which has been held each June since 1986 (canceled only last year due to the pandemic) is run by the Lignite Energy Council, a regional trade association whose mission statement is to “protect, maintain and enhance development of our region’s abundant lignite resource”—referring to lignite coal, the least energy-dense type of coal.
Run at no cost to educators, the seminar is part of a larger program to convince teachers and kids that coal is “vitally important” and that includes worksheets for kids that identify carbon dioxide as “vital to plant life.” The entire program may also be partially funded by out-of-state ratepayers from utilities that tout their renewable energy goals.
If you’re a huge coal fan, the seminar sounds pretty dope. Teachers don’t have to pay anything to attend, a nice perk in an era of tight school budgets. Before the pandemic, the seminar featured tours of “mining operations, reclamation sites and coal conversion facilities.” According to an informational video, teachers are given a number of free goodies, including an actual piece of coal as well as ash samples (wow!) and educational materials and lesson plans “to take back to their classroom.” Many of these educational materials are available on the LEC website; among them is an “Energy and CO2 Management” study guide with several misleading facts that paint carbon dioxide as good, actually, and a terrifying “Captain Coal” coloring sheet.
In a video produced by LEC geared towards younger viewers that kind of makes me want a lobotomy, two kids start casually chatting about the lignite coal industry, as all normal elementary school kids do. One of them is really into her new coal-themed phone game; her reluctant friend (or perhaps sibling?) starts asking her questions about her new passion.
“My cousin says that coal creates pollution and wrecks the environment,” the sulky kid on the sofa says.
“That’s wrong,” his sister declares, adding that she “learned in class” that emissions from coal-based energy have decreased. “The power plants that burn coal to make electricity work really hard and spend a lot of money to make it a clean fuel.” (LEC did not answer several of our questions as of press time, including if any independent scientists had reviewed the educational materials they pass out to teachers at the seminar.)
Coal’s ties to schools run deep. Local taxes on coal mines in North Dakota and other states help directly fund schools in the area, and we’re now seeing some disastrous results as the coal market implodes. In Wyoming, a K-12 education system that relies heavily on taxes from coal production is facing serious budget cuts as demand for coal drops and mines close.