WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden convinced congressional Democrats to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change. Now comes another daunting task: enticing Americans into buying millions of electric cars, heat pumps, solar panels, and more efficient appliances.
It’s a PR challenge that could determine whether the country meets Biden’s ambitious goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Reliance on tax credits and rebates made climate legislation – passed with only Democratic votes in August – more politically palatable than regulations forcing sweeping changes in polluting industries.
But it also means the government’s fight against global warming is being waged “One House at a Time” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, who works on energy issues at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely associated with the White House.
“It’s very incremental,” She said. “So it requires a very sophisticated communication strategy.”
Biden acknowledged the hurdle during a recent cabinet meeting when discussing the stimulus that will become available this year.
“People need to know how to take advantage of these benefits that we have passed on. It’s up to all of us here at the table to make sure we get that message across.” he said.
The White House says it is putting together a plan to work with state governments, contractors, retailers and social media influencers to spread the word. “Reducing electricity bills will be a key driver,” said Josh Peck, a senior policy adviser on clean energy issues.
It also works with Rewiring America, a nonprofit focused on ways to electrify homes and businesses, and companies like Airbnb, Redfin, and Lyft. As part of the effort, Rewiring America created an online calculator that shows what loans or rebates homeowners might be eligible for based on their zip code and income.
Buying a heat pump or installing solar panels is “A great cost item and a great opportunity for savings,” said Ari Matusiak, the group’s founder and CEO. “So it’s really important to make sure people are aware of the resources that are available to them and the benefits they can unlock in terms of energy bill savings.”
But the White House faces an uphill battle.
Polls show that while Americans support action to slow climate change, they are largely unaware of the Inflation Reduction Act, the massive legislation that includes financial incentives to cut emissions, and are skeptical about their own role in the climate crisis.
An AP-NORC poll released in September, a month after the law was signed, found that 61% of US adults said they knew little to nothing about the legislation. And despite billions of dollars invested in climate solutions, only a third said it would help climate change; About half said it wouldn’t make a difference.
The White House says it is not shaken by the results. The goal is to ensure consumers are aware of the financial benefits of energy-efficient products the moment they make important purchasing decisions, Peck said.
“One of the challenges here is getting consumers where they are when making decisions about those purchases.” he said.
According to the AP-NORC survey, the majority of US adults said they are unlikely to install solar panels or buy an electric vehicle in the next three years. Of these, at least half said that financial incentives made no difference in their decision.
Homeowners are usually reluctant to replace stoves or water heaters until they absolutely have to shell out the cash to do so.
“One day the heating won’t turn on and it’s minus 10 outside and you’re like, ‘Oh crap, I need to get an oven’.” said DR Richardson, co-founder of Elephant Energy, a Colorado company that helps homeowners install electric heat pumps and other equipment. “So the biggest challenge, from our perspective and from a climate perspective, is getting people to think ahead of time about how to replace those assets.”
Most homeowners don’t know which appliances are eligible for a rebate or tax credit — and even contractors aren’t always aware, Richardson said. While some heat pumps are fully discountable, others are not or only partially discountable.
“So it’s just a nightmare if you’re not used to making spreadsheets to analyze and understand all these things.” he said.
Also, not all incentives are ready yet. While people can get a tax rebate on the cost of an electric car, solar panels, or a heat pump, rebates aren’t yet available for low- and middle-income Americans looking to make their homes more energy efficient. The Department of Energy is still developing the system to distribute this money.
Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Affairs Council in the Obama administration, said her tenure has taught her that it is critical for government to invest in policy implementation.
“Too often, as advocates and policymakers, we applaud when policy is passed and then stop paying attention.” She said. Instead, they must find ways to reach out directly to people to help them “Understand the steps they can take and the ways the government will make it easy.”
The Department of Energy has begun releasing information to states about their $9 billion allocation to support home energy upgrades, including home weathering and heat pump installation.
And Biden, a self-proclaimed “car guy”, did his part to promote electric vehicles by appearing at the Detroit Auto Show in September and appearing on the television series Jay Leno’s Garage.
Donnel Baird, Founder and CEO of BlocPower, a Brooklyn, NY based company that works with utilities, government agencies and building owners to improve energy efficiency, has worked with Lowe’s and other retailers to promote green home appliances.
The idea, said Baird, is this “The person at the register says, ‘You know, you can get a tax credit if you don’t buy that gas lawnmower and get a green one instead.'” Although such engagement may not have immediate results, Baird said he is hopeful that the tax credits and other benefits of the climate law will become more widely known.
“It took years for the ACA to get going” he said, referring to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “I think the same could happen with this law.”
Dan Pfeiffer, a former top communications adviser to President Barack Obama, sees another lesson in the Affordable Care Act.
“The ACA grew in popularity the more Republicans tried to repeal it,” he said, suggesting Biden use all Republican efforts to return to the Inflation Control Act to draw more attention to the bill’s benefits.
“I have no doubt that the White House has thought of all of this.” said Piper. But the problem is that none of this is easy.”
He added: “The bulk of the work begins now.”