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New ads raise BP oil spill, target presidential hopefuls in Iowa

Fire boats battle a fire at the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon April 21, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

On the fifth anniversary of BP's massive oil spill along the Gulf coast, progressive advocacy group Americans United for Change (AUFC) is targeting presidential hopefuls in Iowa -- purchasing several local and cable television spots to promote a renewable fuel agenda.

One commercial, expected to air in Iowa, opens with a montage of news reports from 2010, when an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig resulted in over 200 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The video cuts to a soundbite from the American Petroleum Institute, declaring the spill a "rare incident." The ad cites an Environmental Protection Agency statistic -- 14,000 oil spills reported yearly -- before ending on an ominous warning: "If Washington guts the Renewable Fuel Standard, expect plenty more 'rare incidents.'"

The AUFC's advertising campaign -- a "six-figure effort," according to the progressive group -- is taking aim at potential candidates weighing White House bids in 2016.

"If our leaders take steps backward towards more dirty oil consumption -- by gutting the RFS or denying consumers cleaner choices -- it would lead to even more accidents and spills resulting from fossil fuel extraction and transportation," AUFC president Brad Woodhouse said in a statement. Woodhouse, a veteran Democratic operative, is also the president of the progressive organization American Bridge.

AUFC has purchased air time on several Des Moines news broadcasts, along with a cable broadcast of a Kansas City Royals baseball game.

Backing the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), an environmental policy that promotes the use of ethanol, is a popular issue particularly among Iowa corn farmers, who benefit from the rule. The RFS dominated the conversation during last month's Iowa Ag Summit, a stop on the pre-campaign trail of many potential Republican presidential hopefuls.

Probable 2016 candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were ready to answer the RFS questions posed by Bruce Rastetter, the summit's host and one of the state's most prominent GOP donors.

"I would suggest to you that ultimately, whether it's ethanol or any other alternative fuel, renewable or otherwise, the market's ultimately going to have to decide this," Bush said in a conversation with the Iowa business leader. "It's really hard to make an investment decision that may take two or three years."

Others, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have bucked support for the government-mandated RFS completely, saying "I support biofuels. I think they have a major role in the energy market. But I don't think Washington should be picking winners and losers."

The group is also setting its sights on local ordinances like Chicago's pro-ethanol E15 mandate. The city's proposed legislation would require gasoline fuels to be composed of 15 percent ethanol, higher than the national standard. AUFC will run TV spots in Chicago, along with newspaper advertising.

CBS News Senior Political Editor Steve Chaggaris contributed to this report.