Environmental activists are ratcheting up the pressure this summer on senators who punted on a sweeping climate and energy bill despite slim chances that broad legislation will pass this year.
Groups pushing climate legislation say they have thousands of supporters preparing to flood into town hall forums, debates and other campaign events and express outrage that the Senate failed to combat global warming.
"The goal is to convey the very palpable outrage over the fact that senators passed the buck on addressing climate this year, even amidst record heat waves, floods, droughts and the Gulf oil spill," said May Boeve, U.S. campaign coordinator for the group 350.org.
Climate bill advocates were dealt a blow this summer when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dropped emission limits and other controversial pieces from the broad energy package he had initially planned to take to the Senate floor before the August recess. Facing a packed schedule and political hurdles, Reid later punted on even a narrow energy and oil spill response bill. Reid has pledged to bring up energy legislation when the Senate returns in September and may try to push a somewhat broader package, but prospects are grim that he can muster 60 votes this year for a climate bill.
But climate bill advocates are hoping that an outpouring of grass-roots support might tip the scales in their favor.
"I've been shocked to see how even our champions on this issue really punted, so I think that it's going to take a lot more activity on the grass-roots level to convey that there really is a very strong and motivated group of people in this country who would really like to see action on this issue," Boeve said.
David Foster, executive director of the labor and environmental group Blue Green Alliance, said that despite an extraordinary outpouring of grass-roots support for climate legislation, "the toxic nature of Washington politics today demands a kind of unprecedented level of grass-roots support to get anything done."
But rather than getting frustrated or giving up, Boeve said, she has seen a "kind of unexpected enthusiasm" among climate activists. About 2,500 people have signed up for the campaign organized by 350.org, which is coordinating its efforts with advocacy groups 1Sky and Energy Action Coalition, Boeve said.
Now, organizers are zeroing in on moderate Democrats from the Midwest as well as moderate Republicans, said Adi Nochur, partnerships coordinator at 1Sky. Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts will likely be among the Republican lawmakers targeted by activists.
But they are not limiting themselves to swing votes, Boeve said. "We think that every single senator has to hear this," she said. "No one is leading on this the way they really need to, so everyone has got to hear from their constituents."
Among the events organizers are planning to attend: an Aug. 18 breakfast featuring the New Hampshire Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Paul Hodes; an Aug. 18 campaign event featuring Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.); and a Sept. 1 debate between Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and her Republican challenger, Carly Fiorina.
Advocates are also eyeing fundraisers and campaign events this month featuring the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Joe Sestak, Indiana Democratic Senate hopeful Rep. Brad Ellsworth, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, according to Nochur of 1Sky.
Meanwhile, the Blue Green Alliance will kick off a three-week nationwide bus tour next week titled "The Job's Not Done." In 30 events across 17 states, activists will call for a comprehensive climate and energy bill this fall, Foster said.
And while getting a bill done this year is their top priority, advocates say they are also planning for the long term, given the difficult political reality of passing a controversial bill this year.
"I always thought that this was a long-term effort," Foster said. "We're trying to solve a 50-year problem. You never make a solution like that over night. I think we came a very long way over the past year and a half."
Advocates will also be pressing lawmakers to fend off attempts to hamstring U.S. EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, said Nochur. "We definitely see defending the Clean Air Act as a critical piece of our efforts moving forward," he said, and activists will be asking elected officials this month whether they will oppose measures to block EPA.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) plans to seek a vote this year on his bill that would delay EPA climate rules for stationary sources for two years. He and other lawmakers argue that EPA's greenhouse gas regulations could cripple the economy.