GOP mega-donor ducks fossil attacks with nuclear pitch

By Hannah Northey | 09/14/2016 07:43 AM EDT

Attacks on Republicans for their connection to fossil fuels are continuing unabated, but activist and mega-donor Jay Faison, a North Carolina entrepreneur, said his group is trying to stem the tide.

Faison gathered with reporters in Washington, D.C., yesterday to push his agenda of persuading more GOP members to embrace clean energy, including nuclear power, despite their views on climate change.

"People understand this is an exposed flank of the Republican Party, we’re being attacked every single day on TV around our ties to Big Oil or our environmental record, or what have you, and we’ve got no defense," Faison said. "We’re not defending that flank."


Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in the last few weeks has blasted Republicans from the Senate floor for having what he calls an unholy relationship with the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, who run Koch Industries Inc.

"For the last eight years, Charles and David Koch and their inner circle of billionaires have wielded immense power within our democracy," the retiring senator said in one statement. "Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that the Republican Congress is bought and paid for by the Koch brothers."

Faison’s ClearPath Action, a political action committee that backs conservatives supporting clean energy, is "spending millions of dollars" in "tough purple states" defending Republicans from attempts to continually connect them to fossil fuels, he said.

So far, Faison appears to be making his mark without hitting the political nerve that is climate change. One way he’s doing that is by focusing on nuclear power.

"Nuclear has been practically without an advocate for a long time," Faison said. "I think there was a vacuum around nuclear advocacy."

Faison laid out his pitch for pushing new reactor designs and keeping existing plants afloat this week, a message he’s planning to present during a Senate hearing today alongside Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (E&E Daily, Sept. 12).

Some environmentalists oppose nuclear power, even though it produces energy without heat-trapping carbon emissions, because of potential risks and the need to mine uranium for fuel.

Faison bemoaned the United States’ lagging position in the nuclear sector compared with Russia, India and China, and called for more policy certainty.

Faison carefully stepped around the issue of oil and gas pipeline fights and climate change. Noting that all decisions in D.C. are political calculations, Faison said climate is not high on the GOP’s watch list.

"Right now, Republicans view climate change as No. 23 on their list of important things, it’s not that high," he said. "Until that number comes up, I don’t think you’re going to see people banging the drum of climate."

Faison maintained that ClearPath’s work — and discussions he’s had with dozens of Republicans — shows the focus on clean energy is growing, but he’s not sure whether it could elevate climate change within the party, noting that the base has not changed.

"I think that’s just the political reality," he said. "I do believe that will flip, but in the meantime, if we have a candidate that’s moving in the right direction … we think that’s progress."