WASHINGTON—Senators who are cool toward climate and energy legislation might suddenly think that summertime in the nation's capital isn't so hot as Hades after all, now that they are trolling for midterm election votes in their home states.
Some of them might feel as if they've jumped from the frying pan into the fire once activists start putting them on the spot by delivering ear-searing messages.
Frustrated advocacy organizations are taking their anti-obstructionist shows on the road during this August congressional recess. They'll be crisscrossing the country to reprimand Republicans and uncooperative Democrats with "Oily Hands Awards" and asking voters across the country to step right up to a three-ring "CarnivOil."
It's one way to highlight, they explain, their dissatisfaction with the Senate's stumbling on a comprehensive climate bill, a clean energy jobs bill and an oil spill accountability bill.
"We definitely have a long summer ahead of us," Adi Nochur, partnerships coordinator for 1Sky, told SolveClimate News. "The recess is a critical opportunity to let the Senate know that inaction is inexcusable."
On Aug. 5, as the Senate prepared to adjourn for five weeks, Nochur led a coalition of climate groups to present its inaugural "Oily Hands Awards" to Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"We decided they were emblematic of the Senate's broad failure to take action," Nochur said about the trip to Capitol Hill.
Though both senators were tied up Thursday, the activists delivered the large pairs of darkened hands to Landrieu's office before engaging in a 40-minute conversation about climate issues with a staffer from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"Senator Murkowski and Landrieu's combined acceptance of over $1.1 million in campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests, their blocking of oil spill response legislation and their attempts to gut the Clean Air Act are emblematic of the fact that too many senators today are siding with polluters over the public," 1Sky Campaign Director Gillian Caldwell said via news release.
"It is absurd that in the wake of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the Senate can't even pass a narrow oil spill response bill, let alone a comprehensive climate and energy bill to address the root of the problem: our fossil fuel dependence."
1Sky will join with activists from organizations such as 350.org, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Energy Action Coalition, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Hip Hop Caucus to fan out across the country to present more "Oily Hands Awards" and keep senators and voters focused on energy legislation, Nochur said.
'The Greatest Addiction on Earth'
In tandem, youth activists from a clean energy group called Consequence plans to collaborate with others to recreate a tongue-in-cheek extravaganza they call "CarnivOil: The Greatest Addiction on Earth."
"We're still in the planning stages," David Di Martino, a Democratic consultant who advises Clean Energy Works, a coalition of about 80 grassroots groups, explained to SolveClimate News. "We'll likely go to state capitol buildings and other highly trafficked public areas. The event worked so well in Washington that we figured it would be a good field organization tactic."
In late July, Senate and House staffers headed to the U.S. Capitol had to thread their way through CarnivOil to walk from Union Station to their jobs.
"We created our own midway to showcase what we called the greatest mess on Earth," Di Martino said. "A barker had people step right up to games that are designed to demonstrate to folks that big oil is partying at everybody's expense."
The marquee event features a boxing match between sea creatures such as turtles and crabs a giant sea and Tony Hayward. The soon-to-be former chief executive officer of BP stands to profit handsomely despite presiding over what has been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
As carnival music blares in the background, red, white and blue clad barkers — some on stilts — invite visitors to sample rolls and doughnuts disguised as oil slick buns and tar balls. Participants can win prizes for tarring the goldfish, knocking down a fat cat, oiling a rubber ducky or spinning the Petroleum Wheel of Doom. In the Tar Ball Toss-O-Rama, players can win 25 points for hitting a sea turtle, 50 points for a seagull and 75 points for a pelican.
"Big Oil has a stranglehold on the U.S. Senate," Di Martino said. "Money and lobbyists can block [energy and climate] policy that has majority support in the House and Senate and a supermajority of support by the public. But there's a strong enough cabal of senators to stop it in its tracks."
Preview of Coming Attractions
"Beyond Petroleum isn't the only BP we need to be citing for dirty practices," said May Boeve, campaign director for 350.org. "It's time to turn up the heat on big polluters and bad politicians, too."
Boeve and Nochur explained that their oily hands presentation on Capitol Hill is just a preview of coming attractions.
Though they wouldn't disclose their geographical strategy, Nochur said they would be focusing on swing-vote senators. However, they also want to criticize representatives who voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the House and praise those who supported it.
Activists will be asking tough questions about climate and clean energy legislation at town hall meetings and public forums, Nochur said, adding that these are opportunities to engage and educate the public.
"This will be our central focus over the next few months," Nochur noted. "We saw how the 'tea party' used last summer to control the health care debate. We want to use this summer to frame the debate on climate change and clean energy."