Climate

How Clean Energy Became A Code Word In Washington

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/THINK PROGRESS

If you are a Republican who cares about climate change, you’re probably pretty sick of the presidential election.

Your last hope suspended his campaign weeks ago, so it makes sense to turn, now, to the Congressional races.

That’s what Republican billionaire Jay Faison seems to have done, launching a new Super PAC this week to direct funds toward candidates who openly support clean energy. The ClearPath Action Fund will spend $5 million on Republican congressional elections, the Wall Street Journal reported. The PAC may get involved in the presidential election later.

“No one is currently providing enough support to candidates who embrace conservative clean energy principles and feel compelled to talk about clean energy as part of their campaign,” Faison said in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress. “We’re forming this committee to make an impact, provide support, and help Republicans this election cycle and in future election cycles.”

Faison, who does believe anthropogenic climate change is occurring, makes a point to say that he doesn’t judge people who don’t. When it comes to talking about what is causing climate change — namely, greenhouse gas emissions — ClearPath’s position is that “it is prudent to lower the risk of air pollution and carbon pollution.”

That’s about as outspoken on climate as Republican get these days (with some notable exceptions, including Carlos Curbelo, who co-founded the bipartisan House Climate Caucus earlier this month). For Republicans, the first rule of addressing climate change seems to be: Don’t talk about climate change.

The PAC comes a little more than a year after Faison launched the ClearPath Foundation, a non-profit aimed at promoting market-based solutions to develop clean energy. According to the ClearPath website, the organization’s mission is to “accelerate conservative clean energy solutions.” Its polling section, which highlights the broad support for clean energy, quotes a strategist as saying, “The best messaging on clean energy de-politicizes climate and emphasizes the wide array of benefits that clean energy provides.”

And Faison’s clean energy world does not rule out natural gas. Even as methane gets more and more attention for its outsized contribution to climate change, ClearPath supports natural gas with “no caveats,” Blain Rethmeier, a spokesperson for ClearPath, told ThinkProgress.

Still, climate groups welcomed the formation of a Republican PAC that would push for clean energy.

“While we don’t endorse candidates, we think it’s great that Mr. Faison is launching this PAC to support Republicans who embrace clean-energy policies,” Citizens’ Climate Lobby executive director Mark Reynolds told ThinkProgress in an email. “It can lead to more GOP members in Congress coming to the table to talk about climate solutions.”

Among the current Republican presidential candidates, though, it is hard to say what any one of them would do to address the threat of climate change. The primary process has undoubtedly pushed candidates to be more extreme. Sure, Ted Cruz has always denied the accepted science, but Marco Rubio once supported — and now denies supporting — cap-and-trade. Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, is all over the place, while Jeb Bush thinks the climate is maybe, possibly changing due to human interference.

It’s hard to imagine any one of these candidates taking his cue from President Obama and forcing regulatory actions such as the Clean Power Plan, or even spearheading negotiations with China and India to guide international climate action. But it’s also hard to imagine a Republican president vetoing legislation from a Republican Congress that favored clean energy. (That’s the rosy scenario. On the flip side, a climate-denying Congress paired with a Republican president would make it nearly impossible for the United States, and the world, to meet carbon emissions reduction goals and avoid the most catastrophic effects of destabilizing the climate.)

But at some point, something has got to give. ClearPath’s polling shows what lots of other polls show: Americans want clean energy. Even more strikingly, 70 percent of Americans accept that climate change is real and caused by humans. A correlating seven out of 10 want their state to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

And this reality in voting districts is having an effect on the ground.

Last fall, facing a tight re-election race against the Democratic governor, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte became the first Republican senator to support the Clean Power Plan.

Ayotte went on to be one of only two Republicans who voted for a recent energy bill amendment that would have stopped tax preferences for fossil fuels during the same time frame that the wind production tax credit is scheduled to be phased out. Despite the meager Republican support for that amendment, leveling the playing field — a phrase often applied to wind and solar tax credits — has actually been promoted by several presidential candidates.

In this case, Sens. Rubio, Graham, and Cruz were all absent from the February vote, as was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is running on the Democrat ticket.

Faison, though, is determined to make clean energy a bipartisan issue.

“We know that Democrats are using clean energy as a wedge issue and we’re committed to fighting back and going on offense for the GOP,” he said. “We don’t have to agree on climate change to agree that Republicans can support a conservative clean energy platform that provides energy security, creates jobs and boosts our economy, and reduces pollution.”