Biden’s next climate hurdle: Getting Americans to buy green
President Joe Biden has persuaded congressional Democrats to provide hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change. Now comes another formidable task: getting Americans to buy millions of electric cars, heat pumps, solar panels and more efficient appliances.
It’s a public relations challenge that could determine whether the country meets Biden’s ambitious goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Count on the tax credits and rebates granted the climate legislation – it was approved in August with only Democratic votes – politically more palatable than regulations that force massive changes in polluting industries.
But it also means the administration’s battle against global warming will be fought “one household at a time,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, who works on energy issues at the Center for American Progress, a tightly-knit liberal think tank. linked to the White House.
“It’s very progressive,” she said. “So it requires a very sophisticated communication strategy.”
Biden acknowledged the hurdle at a recent Cabinet meeting as he spoke about the incentives becoming available this year.
“People need to know how to take advantage of these benefits that we have adopted. It’s up to all of us around the table here to make sure we get that message across clearly,” he said.
The White House says it is developing a plan to partner with state governments, entrepreneurs, retailers and social media influencers to spread the word. “Reducing utility bills is going to be a key driver,” said Josh Peck, senior policy adviser on clean energy issues.
He also partners with Rewiring America, a nonprofit focused on ways to electrify homes and businesses, and companies like Airbnb, Redfin, and Lyft. As part of this effort, Rewiring America has created an online calculator which shows what credits or rebates homeowners might be eligible for, based on their zip code and income.
Purchasing a heat pump or installing solar panels is “a big expense item and a major savings opportunity,” said Ari Matusiak, founder and CEO of the group. “So it’s really important to make sure people are aware of the resources they have and the benefits they can unlock in terms of lower energy bills.”
But the White House faces an uphill battle.
Polls show that while Americans support measures to slow climate change, they largely ignore the Inflation Reduction Act, the massive legislation that includes financial incentives to reduce emissions, and skeptical of his own role in the climate crisis.
An AP-NORC poll released in September, a month after the law was signed, found that 61% of American adults said they knew little or nothing about the legislation. And despite investing billions of dollars in climate solutions, only a third said it would contribute to climate change; about half said it would make no difference.
The White House says it’s not shaken by the results. The goal is to ensure consumers know the financial benefits of energy-efficient products as they make key decisions about which products to buy, Peck said.
“One of the challenges here is trying to meet consumers where they are when making decisions about these purchases,” he said.
The majority of American adults said they were unlikely to install solar panels or buy an electric vehicle in the next three years, according to the AP-NORC poll. Of these, at least half said financial incentives would make no difference in their decision.
Homeowners are usually reluctant to trade in furnaces or water heaters until they absolutely have to shell out the money for them.
“One day the heater won’t come on and it’s minus 10 (degrees) outside and you’re like, ‘Oh shit, I have to buy a furnace,'” Elephant Energy co-founder DR Richardson said. a Colorado company. company that helps homeowners install electric heat pumps and other appliances. “So the biggest challenge from our perspective, and from a climate perspective, is getting people to think ahead about how to replace those assets.”
Most homeowners don’t know what equipment qualifies for a rebate or tax credit — and even contractors aren’t always aware, Richardson said. While some heat pumps are eligible for a full refund, others are not or only eligible for partial refunds.
“So it’s just a nightmare if you’re not used to creating spreadsheets to analyze and figure it all out,” he said.
Not all incentives are ready either. While people may get a tax break on the cost of an electric car, solar panels or heat pump, rebates for low- and middle-income Americans looking to make their homes more energy efficient are not yet available. The Department of Energy is still developing the system to distribute this money.
Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration, said she learned during her tenure that it was critical for the government to invest in policy implementation.
“Too often, as advocates and policymakers, we applaud when policy is enacted and then stop paying attention to it,” she said. Instead, they must devise ways to target people directly to help them “understand the steps they can take and the ways the government is going to make it easier for them.”
The Department of Energy has begun disclosing information to states about their $9 billion allocation to support household energy upgrades, including weatherizing homes and installing heat pumps.
And Biden, a self-proclaimed “car guy,” has done his part to promote electric vehicles, making appearances at the Detroit auto show in September and in the television series “Jay Leno’s Garage”.
Donnel Baird, founder and CEO of BlocPower, a Brooklyn, NY-based company that partners with utilities, government agencies and building owners to improve energy efficiency, worked with Lowe’s and other retailers to promote green appliances.
The idea, Baird said, is that “the person at the checkout says, ‘You know, you can get a tax credit if you don’t get that gas lawn mower and buy a green one at the square. “While such a commitment may not have immediate results, Baird said he is confident that the tax credits and other benefits of the Climate Act will be better known.
“It took years for the ACA to get started,” he said, referring to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “I think the same thing could happen with this law.”
Dan Pfeiffer, former communications adviser to President Barack Obama, sees another lesson in the Affordable Care Act.
“The ACA got more popular as Republicans tried to repeal it,” he said, suggesting that Biden take advantage of any Republican efforts to return to the Cutback Act. inflation to draw more attention to the benefits of the law.
“I have no doubt the White House has thought of all of this,” Pfeifer said. But the problem is that none of this is easy.
He added: “The heavy lifting starts now.”