Meet the man who is trying to change the GOP on clean energy

Meet the man who is trying to change the GOP on clean energy

Jay Faison is on a mission to change the Republican Party’s stance on clean energy. 

Faison, a self-styled advocate for conservative clean energy policies, was an active presence at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, doing numerous public events and meeting with committees and lawmakers to plead his case. 

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“These are issues that are traditionally owned by Democrats; they’re not traditionally trusted by Republicans,” said the entrepreneur, who made a fortune with an audiovisual company before selling it and launching ClearPath last year. He has a staff of a dozen, split between his native North Carolina and Washington, D.C. 

Unlike environmentalists, who mostly promote renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, Faison is a champion of options that he says don’t get respect they deserve, including nuclear power, hydropower, coal with carbon capture and natural gas. 

His main selling point for conservatives is strictly political. Research that he and others have commissioned shows that support for clean energy is the top issue that can sway an undecided voter.

“No other issue does more to change a persuadable voter’s mind than clean energy,” he said. “It is the No. 1 peel-away issue.”

Faison says he’s tired of watching the left take control of environmental policy matters and forcing Republicans — particularly in tough election races — to be on defense. 

The biggest target of his ire is the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which is aligned with Democrats and has spent the most of any environmental group this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Faison has stood up for lawmakers against groups like LCV, calling the green group’s attacks on Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanSens submit bill to 'Hack the DHS' CBO score underlines GOP tensions on ObamaCare repeal Senate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer MORE (R-Ohio), who is facing a tough reelection race, “disingenuous and hypocritical.” 

The group “is very harmful to responsible energy solutions, and I would say it’s harmful for our democracy. I just can’t be more negative on them,” Faison said.

ClearPath has endorsed five incumbent Republicans in Congress in close reelection battles and is planning more endorsements soon. 

“We’re not going to sit on our heels. We’re going to go on offense and call these things out. We’re going to defend candidates on these issues. I don’t expect it’s going to change the other side’s minds, but I do believe the record needs to be set straight, and we intend to do that.”

Still, Faison acknowledges he’s facing an uphill battle.

The party platform adopted by Republicans in Cleveland declares coal “an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.” While Faison says federal funding to promote carbon capture technology is one of his top priorities, he scoffs at idea that coal is clean.

“I don’t think calling coal ‘clean’ without explaining is a great political move. I’m not sure I agree with that, exactly,” he said at a Politico event on the sidelines of the convention.

And unlike most in the GOP, Faison is not a climate change skeptic. He is not trying to convince Republicans to change their views, however.

“What the liberals have done is just scream and shout about the problem, and not done anything to fix it that the other side could agree with. That’s not pragmatic to me.”

Some Republicans are skeptical of Faison and his intentions.

Mike McKenna, a Republican strategist and energy lobbyist, doubts Faison’s commitment to conservative principles, saying he doesn’t have much of a history with the GOP.

“Worrying about how the Republicans are perceived is kind of an odd thing to do for a guy who has very nearly zero history with the party,” McKenna said.

“If anything, he has a lot more history with the Environmental Defense Fund and EcoAmerica than he does with Republicans, which would make normal people wonder which side he is really on.”

Faison says he disagrees with left-wing environmental groups not just on party politics, but also on how to fight climate change and engage politicians who don’t believe in global warming. 

He released a pair of memos Wednesday specifically attacking the LCV’s lawmaker scorecard — which green advocates see as a bible for judging candidates — and pushing Republicans to fight back against the group. 

The LCV dismissed Faison’s critique of its work.

“The fact that we are being attacked like this is testament to the efficacy of LCV’s work — both on the electoral side and through the National Environmental Scorecard, which has been widely regarded as the gold standard for evaluating the environmental records of members of Congress for more than 40 years,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, the group’s senior vice president for government affairs.

Sittenfeld specifically took Faison to task for his opposition to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, saying “anyone who is serious about solving the climate crisis” should support it.

Amid the criticism, Faison said he’s already seeing signs of progress.

Both chambers of Congress are working on bipartisan legislation on advanced nuclear technology, the first major nuclear legislation to get traction in years. Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer McConnell on Trump: 'We could do with a little less drama' Taking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it MORE (R-Fla.) declared at a Florida debate that Republicans don’t have to agree on the problem of climate change to support solutions, a key idea behind Faison’s work. 

“Yes, we’ll call it incremental,” he said. “But I expect this will crescendo. Next year’s going to be a big year, let’s put it that way.” 

But that doesn’t mean that Faison has high hopes for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHuckabee on Trump priorities: ‘A beheading is still worse than a sunburn’ Dan Rather pleads for Trump to pay attention to Portland murders Trudeau says Trump was ’robust,’ 'frank’ with him MORE, should he win the White House.

“I want to see some real policy,” Faison said of Trump. “I think that the campaign has made a conscious decision that these issues don’t matter to voters, that clean energy is not worth talking about.”