Environmentalists and others supporting climate-change legislation are outspending the measure's opponents in the television advertising skirmish underway in advance of Senate action this month, new data show.
Supporters of the plan to curb greenhouse-gas emissions spent $2.9 million in August as they seek to renew interest in legislation overshadowed by the contentious battle over President Obama's health care initiative. That's $1 million more than what opponents spent, according to Evan Tracey, who tracks political advertising at the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
The surge in spending during the lawmakers' August recess put the proponents ahead overall. They have spent $8 million in support of the measure since Jan. 1, compared with $7.4 million by those opposed.
"The perception is that environmentalists are a bunch of unwashed kids tying themselves to trees," Tracey said. "That's not the case anymore. These are very sophisticated and well-funded campaigns."
Even so, the ad blitz by environmental and liberal groups stands in contrast to lobbying patterns. Oil and gas interests have spent more than $82 million in lobbying during the first six months of this year, according to federal data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, environmental groups spent $9.8 million.
The spending is not about to abate. Wednesday, the League of Conservation Voters launched a TV ad against Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo, the latest in a series targeting lawmakers who voted against the House version of the climate-change bill in June.
The league's Mike Palamuso would not provide spending figures but said the group is investing more money in the climate-change campaign than it has on any other bill.
"This is the most significant piece of energy legislation we've seen in at least a generation," he said. "We are laying the foundation for the fight ahead."
Another group, the liberal Americans United for Change, is spending $430,000 through the Labor Day weekend on ads that slam two Virginia Republicans, Reps. Eric Cantor and Frank Wolf, for their "no" votes. The ads targeting Wolf run in the Washington TV market.
The message is aimed at senators as they return to Washington, said Jeremy Funk, the group's spokesman. "This is what's coming if you guys don't do the right thing," he said.
Also spending heavily: the American Values Network, a religious advocacy group that has pumped about $400,000 into an advertising and e-mail blitz in support of the bill in 14 states, including ads on Christian, country and talk radio.
Executive Director Eric Sapp said he hopes to spend another $400,000 this fall, much of it aimed at senators from manufacturing states that "will come under the most pressure" to oppose the bill.
On the other side, the National Association of Manufacturers is running what Executive Vice President Jay Timmons calls a multimillion dollar ad campaign in 13 states that warns the climate bill would devastate the U.S. economy. The ads started Aug. 27 and run through Friday.
A Senate panel plans to unveil its climate bill this month.
The House measure would require greenhouse-gas emissions to drop 17% by 2020 from 2005 levels. Companies that produce the emissions, such as oil refineries, factories and electric utilities, would be required to either cut their emissions or buy pollution permits.
Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California say the change would spur the growth of renewable energy and green jobs. Environmental groups want Congress to act before a conference in December in Denmark, where world leaders will meet to craft an international climate-change agreement.
Opponents say the measure would send electricity and gas prices soaring and cost U.S. jobs.
Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said his group helped organize at least 20 citizen rallies in recent weeks to air concerns about the climate-change plan.
"This issue is just below health care in terms of public anxiety," he said. "During this difficult economic time, there are lot of people who can't believe that Washington is going in a direction to add more costs to them."