Thwarted again in efforts to pass Senate energy legislation, activist groups vowed today to target lawmakers they see as obstructionists.
All Republicans and a group of Democratic senators should bear responsibility for "first blocking a comprehensive climate bill, then blocking energy jobs bill, then finally blocking the oil spill accountability bill. There needs to be a price paid for that. Right now, they think they're getting away with that," said David Di Martino, spokesman for Clean Energy Works, an alliance of about 60 groups that want climate legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) announcement yesterday that a vote on oil spill legislation won't happen until September was the latest blow to environmental groups. They've worked for years to pass climate measures, hoping that President Obama's election and Democratic control of Congress would mean accomplishing that goal, but have been knocked back at every turn. Many fear a vote on offshore oil drilling reforms won't happen next month, either. Some yesterday compared the movement's plight to that of Charlie Brown, who kept kicking for the football only to have Lucy pull it out at the last moment.
"It's definitely been frustrating," said Corry Westbrook, legislative director for National Wildlife Federation (NWF). "It's definitely been frustrating for our activists, as well."
In an effort to force action, Clean Energy Works will spend August talking to voters "to ensure that the handful of senators who are in pocket of the big polluters pay some sort of price," Di Martino said.
Clean Energy Works this month also will hold a "Carnivoil" in several key states. A play on the word carnival, it's an event modeled after a traveling carnival and featuring the subtitle "The Greatest Addiction on Earth." It will feature games with an oil theme, like a boxing match between soon-to-be former BP CEO Tony Hayward and a giant sea turtle, a "petroleum wheel of doom," and naming the oil company CEO's salary, Di Martino said. There are prizes like an action figure modeled after Hayward.
The goal, Di Martino said, is to "deliver the message that Big Oil's having a big party at everyone's expense, and the carnival continues."
Oil and natural gas sector trade group American Petroleum Institute defended the industry's stance.
"While they are enjoying their carnival games, we'll be focused on the key issues facing our nation: American jobs and economic growth," said API spokeswoman Cathy Landry. "We are pleased the Senate shelved this flawed bill, which was littered with job-killing provisions.
"We think it's time for Congress to put the American people first, and right now, that means working on and passing legislation that encourages job creation and economic growth," Landry added.
Senate Republicans are comfortable with their position on energy issues, said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
"We will protect the American people from a national energy tax. We are proud to do that," Stewart said. He said he wasn't concerned about "Carnivoil" or other environmentalists' plans for August.
"If they want to tell people that we will protect them from higher utility rates and a national energy tax, that's great," Stewart said.
Clean Energy Works member groups are debating other actions for August, including petition drives urging support for comprehensive climate legislation and U.S. EPA's ability to regulate under the Clean Air Act, handing out fliers at lawmakers' local offices, and potentially funding advertising.
NWF also will ask members to power up influence efforts this month. It wants activists to meet with lawmakers while they're at home for the August recess, Westbrook said.
"They'll be talking to their members of Congress, hopefully face-to-face, about the need for an oil spill bill," Westbrook said, and members are likely also to ask again for legislation that caps carbon emissions. "People have been working on this issue for years," she added. "They're not going to back down from it."
BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of unions and environmental groups, this month will push the idea that action on climate policies creates jobs. It plans to attend forums, roundtable discussions and editorial board meetings, said David Foster, executive director of BlueGreen Alliance. The alliance also will ask members to meet with lawmakers in their home districts, highlighting the "importance of putting people back to work," Foster said.
Foster also blamed Republicans for the lack of action of energy measures.
"It's reached the point where the public is clearly seeing that the Republican obstructionists are going to have to pay a price for what they are doing," Foster said. "They've shown this over and over that no piece of legislation, how big or all small, will satisfy their desire to keep America mired in the past. I'm disgusted in their lack of interest in America's future and the economic plight of working people."
Reid could not even get all Democrats to support the oil spill bill, said Stewart with McConnell's office. Asked to comment on that, Reid's office referenced his statement from yesterday.
"It's a sad day when not even a single Republican will support a bill that would create up to 700,000 clean energy jobs, and hold BP accountable for the cost of its disaster," Reid said at yesterday's press conference.
Republicans have their own legislation in response to the bill, he said, but Democrats will not allow a vote on that, Stewart said.
That bill would allow the moratorium on offshore oil drilling to be lifted after safety standards are met, Stewart said. It gives the president the ability to set different limits on how much liability oil companies should have for damages connected to an oil spill. And it incorporates Democratic ideas, he said, such as putting into law the reorganization of the former Minerals Management Service (now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement).
"It's a Republican package, but it's a bipartisan bill," Stewart said. "We're ready to vote on that today."
Reid yesterday criticized the Republican bill.
"Democrats can't and shouldn't vote for the Republican bill that doesn't even hold BP accountable for the enormous economic damages it's caused to Gulf Coast communities," Reid said. "Their bill doesn't create a single job, and it doesn't do anything to end our addiction to oil."
In addition to targeting Republicans, those wanting climate and energy measures said they would also highlight what they view as obstructionism by Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Pryor of Alaska, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico for backing movement on an energy-only measure without a carbon cap.
Environmental groups, however, rejected that they could have done much differently over the past 18 months.
"What you've seen in the environmental community is an unprecedented level of coordination and effort," Di Martino said. "What we're guilty of is a miscalculation how firm of grip Big Oil and Big Coal have on the United States Senate."
Those opposed to climate and energy legislation had messages that worked with senators, Di Martino said, particularly calling cap and trade an "energy tax." Although it was inaccurate, Di Martino said, "it certainly cowed senators from supporting the issue."
"There's a core group of senators here who sort of drove the resistance here and ignore the benefits of a climate and energy bill where they flat-out mislead people," Di Martino said.
The alliance and other environmental groups said they will be in contact with members, asking them to call senators and demand a yes vote not only on a bill tightening regulations on offshore drilling, but also on other climate measures, including a national mandate that utilities generate some power from green sources, called a renewable electricity standard. There likely also will be renewed demands for comprehensive climate legislation.
Not giving up
Environmental groups also said they would redouble efforts to pass a bill tightening offshore oil drilling regulations.
Much of the bill was taken from other measures that passed out of committees after multiple hearings, said Eleanor Huffines, manager of Pew Environment Group's offshore energy reform project. Precursor bills to the oil spill measure include S. 3516 passed by the Senate Energy Committee, S. 3515, passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee, S. 3597, discussed in the Commerce Committee. That should mean that senators will reconsider come September, she said.
"If you really look at the provisions of the bill, there are so many senators who are invested in it," Huffines said. "We'll circle back with them."
"I feel confident it's just going to take some more conversation and good open dialogue," she added. "It's just too important not to get it done."
Pew Environment Group also said that it would continue informing voters in coastal areas about provisions in the bill.
"What's important is that people's voices in the community are heard," Huffines said.
NWF hopes that persuasion efforts in August will push senators when they return in September to pass an oil spill bill, Westbrook said.
"If they take September and get a good oil spill bill done, then the delay is totally worth it, as long as they get it done," Westbrook said, adding, "in September, you start to go into election time, too, things can get harder."