There’s one thing political rivals can agree on these days: BP is to blame.
Activists on both sides of the energy debate have launched campaigns accusing their opponents of helping the oil company. They are trying to use public sentiment against the Gulf Coast oil spill to advance their cause.
“The two great motivators in terms of grassroots organizing are fear and anger,” said Christopher Kush , who runs Soapbox Consulting and helps activists with political messaging.
On the liberal end, environmentalists marched onto Capitol Hill Tuesday with wanted posters for “The BP Ten ,” the Democratic and Republican lawmakers with the largest campaign contributions from BP.
The activists accuse those members of holding up climate legislation that includes a cap on greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, conservatives have argued that BP helped draft that proposed legislation and would get millions in handouts should it pass.
“There’s a mythology that cap and trade would be tough on polluters,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe told tea partyers on a recent call. “We would pay the cost. Other corporations would suffer by not being able to be at the table to receive those handouts.”
The conservative group was recruiting grassroots activists to call and meet with Congressional staff to defeat cap and trade, which would charge companies that pollute.
Liberal activists echoed similar concerns about unfair handouts at a rally ahead of Tuesday’s meetings with the BP Ten lawmakers.
“Our government gives oil companies billions of dollars in subsidies,” Robert Weisman of Public Citizen told the crowd, drawing boos from dozens of activists.
Behind him, environmentalists held signs accusing Congress of taking money from BP. One held a sign that showed BP’s CEO telling a turtle he wants his life back. The turtle is shown responding, “Me too.”
Damon Moglen, who spoke on behalf of Greenpeace at the rally, said he shares FreedomWorks’ concern that oil companies have been involved in the drafting of the climate legislation.
“It’s a completely fair and appropriate criticism, but beyond the criticism we also need to develop a new policy,” Moglen said.
That’s where the disagreement begins.
Both activist groups may be employing similar strategies, but their end goals could not be any different.
Kibbe’s group wants the government to get out of the way and allow the private sector to pursue renewable energy sources.
Greenpeace and other environmentalists want even stronger regulation than what was passed by the House last year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that passing an energy bill is a top priority for his chamber. But Democratic leaders seem unsure of what kind of bill they can get passed.
Ideas range from a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to an energy-only bill that promotes alternative fuel sources.
The uncertainty presents an opportunity for the activists to show that the public is on their side.
Kush said the strategy could help both sides use public interest in the oil spill to rally supporters. But it could also backfire if activists begin to feel manipulated by spin.
“You’re trying to goose them,” Kush said. “That’s not to say they won’t be goosed.”