Campaign 2016

GOP clean energy group's Faison says new agenda needed to modernize party

Will candidates who support clean energy have an advantage at the polls this November? During today's OnPoint, Jay Faison, founder and CEO of the ClearPath Foundation and the ClearPath Action super PAC, a political action committee backing conservatives who support clean energy, discusses the opportunities that exist for a Republican clean energy agenda. He also talks about the conversations his organization has had with GOP nominee Donald Trump's campaign about energy policy and innovation.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Jay Faison, founder and CEO of the ClearPath Foundation and the ClearPath Action super PAC, a political action committee backing conservatives who support clean energy. Jay, it's very nice to have you here.

Jay Faison: Thank you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Jay, you're hoping to influence races in purple states. Where do you see the greatest opportunity for a Republican clean energy agenda?

Jay Faison: I see the opportunity everywhere. I think for a long time the left has owned these issues. We basically have ceded this ground to the left in the environmental movement. I think there is a ton of good ideas on the right around marketplace solutions to energy and the environment and virtually anybody can take hold and run with these. They happen to do better electorally probably in the purple states, purple districts, but we're finding broad support across the Republican Party for these ideas.

Monica Trauzzi: Clean energy has been a cornerstone certainly of Obama's energy agenda. How do you think clean energy policy should change? Should it change?

Jay Faison: Well, I think what is energy policy? I'm not sure that we really have a national energy policy. I think we have a patchwork of different ideas. For example, the secretary of Energy is more like the secretary of Energy Research. Doesn't really govern the energy systems writ large.

So we don't really have a national energy policy as far as I'm concerned. Now the Obama administration has a plan that they had the Clean Power Plan, but I don't know that I see a real comprehensive energy plan anywhere to be quite honest.

Now it looks like Mrs. Clinton has a plan; half a billion solar panels. It's heavily renewables-focused. Certainly what we do see out of the White House is very renewables-focused and I think that's a part of the equation, but I think it ignores the big workhorses of our energy system, the clean workhorses of our energy system, like hydropower and nuclear, for example, which aren't really given their due compared to wind and solar, for example.

Monica Trauzzi: So this then means that Congress needs to pass comprehensive energy reform.

Jay Faison: Well, we don't have much time to do it this year and then we're on to a new president next year. So I'd be hopeful that, at least for Murkowski's bill, S.B. 2012, and HRA would pass, but I don't know. We'll see.

Monica Trauzzi: If you had to script a message for the Republican Party on climate and energy, what would you like to be hearing from Republicans in general?

Jay Faison: Well, go to ClearPath.org and a lot of it would be laid out there. I don't think that really covers the whole gamut, but it's a big piece of the equation.

I think what we'd like to see from the Republican Party is, an all-of-the-above, a real and cleaner all-of-the-above strategy. Right now we just focus-grouped all of the above and it rings hollows to voters. What does that mean? It feels like, at least from the focus groups that I watched, people think that it's avoiding the question, there's no real policy behind it, it's a paper tiger; whatever it is.

But we believe that we do need all of the resources that we have today. We think keep it in the ground is pretty unrealistic, but we think we can transition into a cleaner energy system using all-of-the-above approach, making our fossil fuels a bit cleaner and there's technologies out there that do that. Accelerating things like advanced nuclear. Not picking winners and losers, but putting the right regulation in place and emphasizing in particular innovation.

I think cheaper, affordable, reliable and cleaner technology is all about innovation. That's where I feel like we really need a concerted effort. That innovation should be much deeper than just wind and solar and renewable-focused.

Monica Trauzzi: How are you received by members of the Republican Party who represent very fossil-heavy districts or those who have had long-standing support from the fossil fuel industry?

Jay Faison: We work very closely with a lot of coal district and state members and we have been a proponent of 45Q, for example, which is an innovation bill for carbon capture and sequestration, which has broad support of coal members plus about half of the coal industry is in favor of that. That's something in particular that we worked on.

We can get broad agreement from just about everywhere we go on the Hill. Oil and gas to coal to nuclear or hydro. There's something in our plan for everybody, and there's a better way to do energy than the way that we're currently doing it.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned advanced nuclear earlier. What are your thoughts on existing nuclear facilities, many of which we're seeing decommissioned?

Jay Faison: Well, I think you've got to look at the existing fleet that we have. You need to look at the military needs that we have and the nuclear threats that are out there today and the advanced nuclear industry that we have burgeoning here today as one talking point.

The cornerstone of all of that is the existing fleet today because that provides the jobs and the supply chain and the industry to serve that industry, which also, by the way, serves the Navy, also provides jobs for all those hard-working Navy nukes we have. Also provides the foundation for advanced nuclear. Also provides us the know-how and the supply chain to monitor nuclear proliferation worldwide and administers safety for domestic nuclear production worldwide.

So I see it as one big puzzle, and I feel like the nuclear industry has been completely overlooked. At the center of that and the one that I think we really do need to focus on is preserve the fleet because if we don't, that's like losing two pieces of the cornerstone of a rectangular building. The building is going to be hard to keep upright if we lose the existing fleet and, therefore, the backbone of the industry that we have today.

Monica Trauzzi: Would you say that Energy Secretary Moniz is largely supportive of what you've just proposed?

Jay Faison: I testified after him at Lamar Alexander's committee the other day and, yes, he's supportive, but I think he rightly also said that it's really an NRC issue. His department is working on modeling techniques to extend the life of nuclear plants, but that the real work lies within the NRC, it lies in the patchwork of subsidies that we have across our energy system and it probably also lies in FERC in the way that we price electricity in competitive markets.

Monica Trauzzi: Why isn't climate change higher up on the list of important things for Republicans?

Jay Faison: Maybe because Democrats like it. I don't know. I feel like after the Al Gore movie everybody just chose sides. There's just sort of trench warfare that's going on in this town that's probably worse than it's ever been. According to Gallup and Pew we're more partisan than we've ever been. So there is this dynamic; whatever you're for I'm against on both sides.

So I don't know, but I do know this. We don't need to agree on climate to agree on good, clean energy solutions. There's a lot of things that are going on today in Congress that give us a lot of hope.

For example, the Modernization Act, "Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act" that's co-sponsored by Sheldon Whitehouse and James Inhofe working together on a nuclear bill. So I think if we focus on the solutions I think we can get past fighting about the problem itself.

Monica Trauzzi: Back in July you said you were uncertain if you'd support Donald Trump in November. What are your thoughts now?

Jay Faison: Still haven't seen enough energy policy that matches the way we think about it. We've seen a very oil-and-gas-focused energy policy, which I understand. I think there is some economic benefit to driving prices down even further, but it's not over yet. We remain hopefully that we'll see better energy policy out of there or energy policy that is real and cleaner all of the above.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think that his views on energy and climate accurately represent broadly what Republicans think?

Jay Faison: No. No. Our research says that 76 percent of Republicans want to accelerate clean energy. Republicans are widely in favor of clean energy and we've done a lot of focus grouping around this, a lot of polling around this.

They're also a bit skeptical. They're a bit skeptical of sound bites and catchphrases. They want real policy. So I feel like clean energy policy is also good politics. We've tried to convince the Trump campaign of that. They've mentioned nuclear and the need for innovation. So maybe there's been some things that made it in there. We don't work with them closely.

Monica Trauzzi: But do you have an ongoing conversation with them?

Jay Faison: We've probably talked to them four or five times. Not at a really high level. To be honest with you, I think it's a missed opportunity in a lot of different races that are going on out there today. Some candidates are actually using this, and I think it's to their benefit.

We're running 12 races now. After the election is over we'll be able to show what we've done because we're control group tested on all the digital work that we do. So we have a real, accurate test of how clean energy moves voters.

We're going to be out in November knocking on doors showing what we found. Our initial results are better than what we expected. They move voters a lot. If you break it down to a cost per vote, it's a very, very effective way to win voters.

Monica Trauzzi: So after November then what do you have planned next for ClearPath?

Jay Faison: Well, we keep working on policy, but we also will have an opportunity to show with real facts and figures what clean energy does politically. We've had some preliminary meetings around that. There's a lot of interest around the Republican Party about how to take back these issues and go on offense.

I hope that after this election if we lose the White House that there will be a new, fresh agenda on how to modernize the party a little bit on issues like mine, like clean energy.

Monica Trauzzi: We'll end it right there. Thank you for your thoughts. Nice to see you.

Jay Faison: Thanks so much, Monica. It was great being here.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you.

Jay Faison: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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