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Jay Faison wants 'political space' for a Republican clean energy agenda

ClearPath CEO Jay Faison

Source: ClearPath Foundation

Republican businessman JayFaison is founder and CEO of ClearPath Foundation, a newly formed organizationpromoting a "conservative clean energy" agenda that includes coal,natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric power. In February, Faison also launchedClearPath Action, an independent political action committee to help electRepublicans to public office and promote cleaner energy policies to GOPlawmakers.

In an exclusive interviewwith S&P Global Market Intelligence, Faison elaborated on his vision forthe GOP's energy platform and ClearPath's strategy going forward. Below is atranscript of that interview, edited for clarity and length.

SNLEnergy: Energy has become a very partisan issue, with most Republicans wantinga more hands-off approach to regulation and inclusion of fossil fuels andDemocrats pushing harder for climate rules and growth in renewables at theexpense of coal and gas. What do you see as the right balance?

Jay Faison: I'm not sure it's any onepolicy. I think it's a whole host of policies that optimize or reduceregulation around a lot of our energy sources that need to be more tapped into.I also think we need a lot more innovation… If you're a nuclear entrepreneur …and you have a [new] nuclear idea, you really can't do it in the United Statestoday. Youneed to get to a testing facility. You need to get through the [NuclearRegulatory Commission], and they're built for the 1950s technology. They're notbuilt to approve any kind of new technology.

Whatelse would you like to see on the policy front?

We'repro giving coal a shot — give them a shot at clean and some of the sameadvantages that other renewables have. If we're capturing the carbon, then Ithink that should be treated equally. … On the hydro side, half the equipmentin our dams is over 50 years old. The Army Corps of Engineers can't lease newequipment just by the way the rules are structured, which is kind of crazy. Youcan lease new equipment and submit probably more to Treasury in a very, veryquick period just because of higher efficiency and less maintenance on thatequipment. The Corps manages about 25% of our hydro resource and yet can't usefinancing to upgrade equipment [because of] rules of Congress. They have to beappropriated by Congress.

Howare you trying to convince conservative lawmakers, particularly in the U.S.Congress, to embrace your agenda?

Whatwe're lacking is focus. A lot of these Republicans agree with a lot of theseideas, they're just not aware of them. So we're going after incremental policyright now on, for example, the Nuclear Energy [Innovation] Capabilities Act,which was [passed unanimously] in the House two or three weeks ago, on buildinga fast neutron testing facility here in the U.S. Previously, we'd be doing thatin Russia.… But that's crazy. We want to build support, deep analysis and goodmessaging around these types of incremental policies that could unlock cleanenergies in a way that doesn't grow the size of the government and allows freemarkets to operate appropriately. …

Traditionally,there has been no political space for supporting these policies. You have avery good lobby on the fossil side and a pretty good lobby on theenvironmental/wind and solar side. But if you're [Republican Ohio Rep.] RobPortman or [Tennessee Sen.] Lamar Alexander, there's not a lot of supportpolitically. So we want to provide that support. And we do have a Super PAC. We'renot announcing any races at this time, but we do have a Super Pac with $5million committed and we'll be running races for Republican members in thosedistricts or states where you have ticket splitters that want to hear that thecandidate is not married to this camp over here. They want anindependent-thinking Republican. We've done focus groups around this. So we'llbe messaging that clean energy is a great indicator that this candidate is anindependent thinker.

Nuclear has sort of a mixed imageenvironmentally. It's low-carbon but poses potential safety risks. How will youbuild broad bi-partisan support for investing more there?

There was an interesting article from [SierraClub Executive Director] Michael Brune [on April 13] talking about nuclear andpreserving the nuclear fleet in The WallStreet Journal. They're debating about the existing fleet. Traditionally,they've been against nuclear and taking down nuclear but they're investigating …they're not sure that they should. They're not advocating for decommissioningnuclear necessarily. You can tell there is a little bit of struggle withintheir organization there. When you have Sierra starting to wrestle thatposition in a public forum, I think … that tells you that Democrats perhaps aregetting a little more realistic that a 2-GW nuclear plant is a whole lot ofsolar. It's miles and miles of solar. And taking that down, if we take downDiablo Canyon in California this year, a lot of people say there's no way youhit your goals for next year and the following year. You can't make that up inrenewables.

Howdo you incentivize the sort of energy solutions that ClearPath is promoting?

We'reworking on that. We're working on a long-term plan. Jim Connaughton, who wasthe [Council on Environmental Quality chairman under President George W. Bush],is working on that with us. Might take a few months but we'll have somethingout there.

Whenwill you announce endorsements?

Wewill, certainly, after the convention. There's a lot that can happen in thecalculus of these races, depending on who's at the top of the ticket. We'relooking at both [state and federal elections] and imagine we'll be in both. I'mnot sure early money is smart money right now.

It'snot clear yet who the Republican candidate will be for the White House, butwhat energy platform do you see Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or other GOPfrontrunners taking?

Ihave absolutely no idea [for Trump]. I think Cruz, we have an idea. [Democraticstrategists] Stan Greenberg and James Carville have an interesting analysiswhere they show a clean energy/big oil messaging to a Republicantop-of-the-ticket voter does more to peel away that voter than any other issue.… Even though in the importance ranking it's low, for some reason, in theiranalysis and we're trying to learn about it ourselves, it does more to move thevoter off the top of the ticket than any of those other bigger issues. … Ithink it's a clear signal. And we know that 72% of Republicans want toaccelerate clean energy. It's an important issue. It's not a top five issue butwhen you're judging a candidate, it is a top five issue. Are they relevant tothe way the world is going? Are they a backward-looking Republican or aforward-looking Republican?

WillClearPath focus on state-level energy policies?

We'rejust [Washington, D.C.] for now, because there is a lot to do here and itimpacts all 50 states. So we were active in North Carolina, but frankly theamount of work is … it's more here, but it's not eight times more. You stillhave all that learning to do, all the craziness that goes on at the statelevel. It's just more impactful for us. And we really are filling a vacuum.There's really not much else going on in scale to push a conservative, cleanenergy platform. And the resources we have are pretty big. We have 15 full-timepeople, plus a lot of advisors.

Wheredoes the financial support for ClearPath come from?

So Isold my business three years ago and decided to give back in the prime of mylife rather than the end of it. I transferred most of the proceeds from thesale into a foundation. So all of the money comes from the proceeds of thatsale. My daughter actually named the foundation ClearPath.[And] we're raisingmoney for our Super PAC. We just started. We've got [billionaire former hedgefund manager] Julian Robertson, that was announced. They call him the Wizard ofWall Street. We'll announce others as well. So we're raising funds for that.And then we're also bundling some campaign contributions for candidates as well.

Whatdo you see as your long-term strategy?

We'dlove to have a champion in the office, a Republican. But there's so much workto be done. There [are] so many rules that need to be fixed that we're going tobe here a long time grinding it out every day. You've got to be here [in D.C.],you have to staff up here, you've got to be in the conversation here and we'redoing that.

Howbig is your office in Washington?

One[person] and we've got two job postings now. … Our policy team is in Charlotte,[N.C.,] we've got a bunch of smart energy people in Charlotte that will supportthe team here.

Whatdo you think of the Clean Power Plan?

We'renot for top-down, mandated, command-and-control type of regulation. We're goingto be much more on the free-market side and not choosing winners or losers andjust getting the pricing mechanisms right, getting the policies right so thatindustry can solve this. I think [the Clean Power Plan] is pretty cumbersome.Also … I think it's pretty uncertain the amount of emissions reduction we'regoing to get. Because a lot of people will tell you we're moving that wayanyway.

[Carbon]is a world-wide problem. I mean if the U.S. reduces our carbon X amount, thenwe still have the rest of the world to contend with. And it's hard to askanother country to spend more on energy, so we think clean energy needs to bemore affordable and not traditional energy needs to be more expensive. We don'tthink that's the right dynamic.