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A group made up mainly of members of the mining industry backs one of the two environmental science texts approved for Texas high school students earlier this month.
The state education board's Republicans originally disapproved of "Global Science" by Iowa-based Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., but withdrew objections after leaders of the Mineral Information Institute wrote letters to the board calling attention to their free-market credentials.
The book had sparked concerns that passages on population growth were alarmist and that others reflected negatively on capitalism.
"Very anti-free market summary," the small-government group Citizens for a
Sound Economy concluded. "There is the subtle and yet repetitive message that the government has an important role to play in every aspect of our lives, from control of the population, use of resources, management of our economy, etc., or else, left to individuals, we will most likely exceed our finite limitations and cause the planet to collapse."
That critique surprised members of the Mineral Information Institute, including Cleveland Cliffs, which describes itself as the largest iron ore mining company in the United States. The institute's financial contributors include such icons of capitalism as Honda and Eastman Kodak.
The institute was created 20 years ago to guarantee the sale of the first 2,000 copies of "Global Science." Since then, a team of editors volunteered by the group has reviewed every chapter through five editions. The institute has also helped the author, retired high school science teacher John W. Christensen, type manuscripts and secure copyrights for photos.
Some said that assistance calls the objectivity of the text into question.
"It looks to me like Texas textbooks are written of, by and for the polluters," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of consumer watchdog group Texas Public Citizen. "But unlike most corporate advertising, their name is not emblazoned on the cover, so kids aren't able to realize this is another type of advertising."
The education board's chairwoman, Republican Grace Shore of Longview, said the mineral institute's help probably makes the book more balanced.
"The oil and gas industry should be consulted," said Shore, the co-owner of TEC Well Service Inc, which repairs and deepens oil wells and produces oil and gas. "Why not discuss it with the industry and get their viewpoint as well as the environmentalists'? We always get a raw deal."
The institute's goal, says Director Nelson Fugate, has been to change those "old myths" that mining companies are "widow-makers and land-rapers" by providing information about how minerals contribute to the standard of living in America.
"Yes, we are a special-interest group," he said. "But our special interest is that we have fair, balanced and accurate scientific information."
Christensen says that he considers advice from the institute but emphasizes that it does not control the content of the book.
"I consider myself to be an environmentalist, but I also know that minerals are what the car I drive is made of, the computer I write on is made of and airplanes I fly in are made of," he said. "I consider it hypocritical to in one case use those products and then blast the people who provide them."
You may contact Gaiutra Bahudur at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 445-3631.