SALT LAKE CITY — Reduce, reuse and keep on mining.
That's the message going out to Utah elementary students this spring in an Earth Day poster contest sponsored by the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. It is drawing criticism from parents who say it misses the point of Earth Day.
The contest asks Utah elementary school students to use markers and crayons to create 11-by-17-inch posters in the theme "Where would we be without oil, gas and mining?"
The contest lists skateboards and computers as examples of everyday items made using petroleum.
"It seems so cynical and a little bit underhanded to try to greenwash the fossil fuel industry," said Colby Poulson, father of a kindergartner at Eagle Bay Elementary in Farmington.
The first Earth Day was held in the early 1970s to promote cleaner skies and waterways. It coincided with the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Advocates say it aims to encourage consumers to conserve resources and cross over to renewable ones.
Poulson drew attention to the issue with a March letter to the editor submitted to The Salt Lake Tribune. Now, Utah Moms for Clean Air is launching its own green-themed poster contest asking students to explore the consequences of fossil fuels.
Jim Springer, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, defends the contest.
"The simple fact is that our modern society doesn't exist without these things," Springer said. "As much as some people may dislike fossil fuels, they're here to stay for quite some time to come."
At the Davis School District in northern Utah, the contest isn't mandatory, said school district spokesman Chris Williams. The district offers a handful of poster contests each year, he said, and parents can decide which contests their children participate in.
"I see it as a coloring contest," Williams said. "I don't see it as anything other than that." Rocks, minerals and fossils are a key part of fourth grade curriculum, he said.
Poulson first learned of the contest a few weeks ago after noticing a poster in the kitchen of friends whose daughter attends school in the district. That poster's heading quoted the prompt of the state-run contest. Below, it listed answers to the question: no diamonds, no electricity, no Disneyland.
But the poster also incorporated negative effects of fossil fuels, saying without fossil fuels, we'd have more flowers and more birds. The contest struck Poulson as propaganda on the part of the mining industry.
"We have 364 other days a year where fossil fuel gets plenty of spotlight," he said, adding that Earth Day should be a day to consider the health and environmental costs of relying on those fuels.
Poulson wrote an email to one of his legislative representatives expressing his concern. He received a message from former environmental engineer Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Salt Lake City.
The contest, Barrus said Friday, helps to balance out school curriculum that already spends considerable time going over renewable energy.
"It is not propaganda," Barrus wrote of the contest. "Since earth science is part of the curriculum, the benefits of fossil energy need to be part of our kids' education."
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