When Jay Faison, one of the Republican Party’s most generous patrons, flew to Cleveland for its national convention in July, things weren’t looking good for anyone concerned about the health of the planet. The month was shaping up to be the hottest in recorded history, and the party was about to nominate a candidate who’d called global warming a hoax invented by China. GOP leaders were also preparing their most backward climate platform in a decade—one that, beneath the heading “Environmental Progress,” questioned the objectivity of established climate scientists and faulted Democrats for inventing “the illusion of an environmental crisis.” Inside the air-conditioned Huntington Convention Center, nobody objected when one delegate, an evangelical activist from Texas, suggested that coal, which is responsible for a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, be described as “clean.” “The Democratic Party does not understand that coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource,” the final text of the document read.
Faison arrived at the convention a few days after the platform committee met. The staff of ClearPath, the nonprofit foundation he’d created to persuade conservatives to fight climate change, had quietly lobbied the platform’s drafters, to little effect. But as Faison worked the panel-discussion circuit in Cleveland, he was relentlessly, almost absurdly, diplomatic. “I don’t think calling coal ‘clean’ without explaining is a great political move, and I’m not sure I agree with it, exactly,” he said at an event hosted by the American Petroleum Institute. Furrowing his brow, he quickly added that coal could be made clean, and that “we need to work towards it.”