Jay Faison is a conservative, Obamacare-hating businessman in North Carolina with $175 million to burn. And according to Politico's Darren Goode, Faison plans to spend his fortune trying to convince his fellow Republicans to care more about global warming.
That includes shelling out $40 million during the 2016 election "to persuade moderates and conservatives to join the fight against climate change — but relying on market-based principles rather than government mandates."
Okay, what does that mean? You can get a sense from visiting his website, ClearPath.org, where he calls for:
- A revenue-neutral carbon tax that would make oil, gas, and coal more expensive relative to clean energy and be offset by tax cuts or rebates elsewhere. (Or, alternatively, a cap-and-trade program that accomplishes the same thing.)
- Changes to state regulations in order to make it easier for homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs. In particular, ClearPath criticizes utilities trying to weaken "net metering" rules that have boosted rooftop solar in recent years.
- An international agreement on global warming, modeled after the treaty Ronald Reagan signed to phase out ozone-depleting CFCs.
"We know that free-market solutions and global cooperation have solved environmental problems before," the site declares, touting Reagan's efforts on CFCs and the bill George H. W. Bush signed in 1990 to tackle acid rain.
Faison is hardly the first conservative to make these arguments. Bob Inglis, a former Republican representative from South Carolina, has been arguing for years that we should replace the EPA's thicket of regulations around CO2 emissions with a revenue-neutral carbon tax. He's never found much of a constituency. Then there are a few Tea Party groups in places like Oklahoma and Georgia that have touted home solar systems as a favored energy source. They've had more success fighting with utilities over this.
Yet these are minority voices within the GOP. Most Republicans currently in Congress don't even believe humans are warming the planet — let alone that it's a problem in need of urgent attention.
Likewise, most of the GOP's 2016 presidential candidates aren't particularly jazzed about the issue. Marco Rubio doubts humans are causing global warming. Jeb Bush has a fuzzy stance: he's unsure whether humans are behind it, doesn't think we should ignore it, doesn't think it's the highest priority, either, and his preferred solution involves subsidies for fracking (which is already booming anyway). Lindsay Graham is the only one who insists global warming is a real problem, but he's considered a long-shot candidate.
So... Faison's facing some steep hurdles here. One is that Republican primary voters just don't care all that much about climate change. A recent Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of Iowa GOP primary voters found that it ranked a distant 20th among 20 issues polled. Only 18 percent of them wanted candidates to spend more time talking about it:
Faison's obviously betting that a concerted, well-financed effort can change that. Either he's going to surprise a lot of people or just end up squandering a lot of money on a valiant-but-doomed effort. We'll see.