President Joe Biden has persuaded Democrats in Congress to provide hundreds of billions of dollars to tackle climate change. Now he faces another formidable task: encouraging Americans to buy millions of more efficient electric cars, heat pumps, solar panels and appliances.
It’s a public relations challenge that could determine whether the United States meets Biden’s ambitious goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
The fact that the climate bill – which passed in August with only Democratic votes – is backed by tax credits and exemptions has made it more politically attractive than regulations that would force polluting industries to make massive changes. force to do.
But it also means the government’s fight against climate change will be fought “from home,” said Shannon Baker-Bronstetter, who works on energy issues at the Center for American Progress, a think tank based in the White House. Examines closely.
“It’s very gradual,” he said. “So it requires a very sophisticated communication strategy.”
Biden acknowledged the existence of the hurdle during a recent cabinet meeting discussing the stimulus he would receive this year.
“People need to know how to take advantage of these benefits that we have taken for granted. It is up to all of us around this table to make sure that we get that message across clearly,” he said.
The White House says it plans to work with state governments, contractors, retailers and social media influencers to spread the message. “Reducing the size of utility bills is going to be an important driver,” said Josh Peck, senior policy advisor on clean energy issues.
It’s also collaborating with Rewiring America, a nonprofit focused on finding ways to electrify homes and businesses, and companies like Airbnb, Redfin, and Lyft. As part of that effort, Rewiring America created an online calculator that shows what credits or rebates homeowners may be eligible for based on their income and the zip code where they live.
Buying a heat pump or installing solar panels is “a major expense line and a huge opportunity to save,” said Ari Matusiak, the group’s founder and CEO. “That’s why it’s really important to make sure people are aware of the resources that are available to them and the benefits they can bring in terms of achieving savings on their energy bills.”
But the White House faces an uphill battle.
Polls show that while Americans support action to slow climate change, they are generally unaware of the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes many things, including financial incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that Doubts about its role in the climate crisis.
An Associated Press-NORC poll released in September, a month after the law took effect, found that 61% of US adults said they knew little or nothing about the law. And despite billions of dollars being invested in solutions to improve the climate, only a third said it would help improve the fight against climate change, and nearly half said it would make no difference.
The White House says it is not perturbed by the results. Peck said the goal is to make sure consumers are aware of the financial benefits of energy-efficient products when they make important decisions about which products to buy.
“One of the challenges here is trying to meet consumers where they are when making decisions about these purchases,” he said.
According to an Associated Press-NORC poll, a majority of US adults say they are not likely to install solar panels or buy an electric vehicle in the next three years. About half of them said that financial incentives would not make any difference to their decision.
Homeowners are generally reluctant to replace furnaces or water heaters unless they have no choice but to spend the money.
“One day the heat won’t turn on and it’s (the temperature) 10 (degrees Fahrenheit) below zero outside and you say, ‘Oh … I’ve got to go get the heater,'” said Dr. Richardson, co-founder of Elephant Energy. Founder, a Colorado-based company that helps homeowners install electric heat pumps and other equipment. “So the biggest challenge from our perspective and from a climate perspective is to get people to think ahead about how to transform these assets.”
Richardson said most homeowners don’t understand what appliances qualify for exemptions or tax credits, and even contractors aren’t always aware. While some heat pumps are eligible for a full exemption, others are not, or are only eligible for a partial exemption.
“So it’s just a nightmare if you’re not used to working on spreadsheets to analyze and understand all these things,” he said.
And not all incentives are ready either. While people can get tax breaks on the cost of electric cars, solar panels or heat pumps, the exemption is not yet available to low- and middle-income Americans who are trying to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. . The Department of Energy is still developing systems for distributing that money.
Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council during President Barack Obama’s administration, said that during her administration she learned that it is important for government to invest in the execution of policies.
“Often we as promoters and policy makers appreciate a policy when it is implemented and then we stop paying attention to it,” he said. Instead, there is a need to design ways to reach out to people directly to help them “understand the steps they can take and the way the government is going to facilitate it.”
The Energy Department has begun providing states with information on their $9 billion allocation to support home energy improvements, which include making homes more resistant to cold weather and installing heat pumps.
And Biden, a self-described “car man,” is doing his part to promote electric vehicles, appearing at the Detroit auto show in September and on the television series “Jay Leno’s Garage.”
Donnell Baird, founder and CEO of BlockPower, a Brooklyn, New York-based company that works with utility companies, government agencies and building owners to improve energy efficiency, has partnered with Lowe’s Energy Home and others to promote efficient appliances. Has worked with a chain of retail stores.
The idea, Bird said, “is for someone to say, ‘You know what? You can get a tax credit if you don’t get that lawn mower and buy that green technology instead.’ While there may not be immediate results from the talks, Baird said he is confident the tax credits and other benefits of the climate legislation will become more widely known.
“The ACA took years to get back on track,” he said, referring to the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” And he added: “I think the same thing can happen with this law.”
Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s former top communications adviser, sees another lesson in the bill.
“The ACA became more and more popular and more Republicans tried to repeal it,” he said, indicating that Biden would take advantage of any Republican effort to repeal the Low Inflation Act to push more on the benefits of that legislation. attention can be attracted.
“I have no doubt that the White House has thought about all of this,” Pfeifer said. But the problem is that “none of this is easy”.
“The bulk of the work starts now,” he said.