December 1, 2023

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden is urging Democrats in Congress to provide hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change. Now comes another daunting task: persuading 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 cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

Relying on tax credits and rebates made the climate law — it was approved in August with only Democratic votes — more politically palatable than regulations that force wholesale changes in polluting industries.

But it also means the administration’s fight against global warming will be taken “one household at a time,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, who works on energy issues at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. tank closely aligned with the White House.

“It’s a great addition,” he said. “So it requires a sophisticated communication strategy.”

Biden acknowledged the hurdle at a recent Cabinet meeting as he discussed incentives available this year.

“People need to know how to take advantage of these benefits that we’re passing on. That’s up to everyone around the table here to make sure we get the message out clearly,” he said.

The White House said it is putting together a plan to work with state governments, contractors, vendors and social media influencers to get the word out. “Lowering utility bills will be a key driver,” said Josh Peck, a senior policy adviser on clean energy issues.

It 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 the effort, Rewiring America has created an online calculator which shows what credits or rebates homeowners may qualify for, depending on their ZIP code and income.

Buying a heat pump or installing solar panels is “a big expense line and a big savings opportunity,” said Ari Matusiak, the group’s founder and CEO. “That’s why it’s so important to make sure people are aware of the resources they can use and the benefits they can unlock in terms of bringing energy bill savings.”

But the White House faces an uphill battle.

The poll shows that while Americans support action to slow climate change, they are ignorant of the Inflation Reduction Act, the massive legislation that includes financial incentives to lower emissions, and are skeptical of their own paper. of 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 very little about the law. And despite multibillion-dollar investments in climate solutions, only a third said they would help with climate change; about half said it would make no difference.

The White House said it was not troubled by the results. The goal is to ensure that consumers are aware of the financial benefits of energy-efficient products once they make informed decisions about which products to buy, Peck said.

“One of the challenges here is trying to meet consumers where they are when they make decisions about these purchases,” he said.

A majority of US adults say they are unlikely to install solar panels or buy an electric car in the next three years, according to an AP-NORC poll. Among them, at least half said that financial incentives did not make a difference in their decision.

Homeowners are often reluctant to replace furnaces or water heaters until they have to shell out the money for them.

“One day the heat won’t come on and it’s negative 10 (degrees) outside and you say, ‘Oh crap, I’ve got to get a furnace,'” said DR Richardson, co-founder of Elephant Energy, a Colorado 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 these assets.”

Most homeowners don’t understand what equipment qualifies for a rebate or a tax credit — and even contractors don’t always know, Richardson said. While some heat pumps qualify for a full rebate, others do not or only qualify for a partial rebate.

“So it’s just a nightmare if you’re not used to working with spreadsheets to analyze and understand all these things,” he said.

Not all incentives are ready either. While people can get a tax break on the cost of an electric car, solar panel or heat pump, Rebates for low- and middle-income Americans seeking to make their homes more energy efficient are not yet available. The Department of Energy is still developing a system to distribute that money.

Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration, said that she learned during her tenure that it is critical for the government to invest in the delivery of policies.

“Too often we advocates and policymakers applaud when policy is implemented and then stop paying attention,” he said. Instead, they should design ways to directly target people to help them “understand the steps they can take and the ways the government can facilitate.”

The Department of Energy has begun releasing information to states about their allocation of $9 billion to support home energy upgrades, including weatherizing homes and installing heat pumps.

And Biden, a self-described “car guy,” is doing his part to promote electric vehicles, appearing at the Detroit auto show in September and on the TV 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, partnered with Lowe’s and other retailers to develop green tools.

The idea, Baird said, is that “the person at checkout says, ‘You know, you can get a tax credit if you don’t get that gas lawn mower and get a green one.’ ″ While such a deal may not have immediate results, Baird said he is confident that the tax credits and other benefits of the climate law will be more recognized.

“It took years for the ACA to go through,” 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 top communications adviser to President Barack Obama, sees another lesson in the Affordable Care Act.

“The ACA became more popular the more Republicans tried to repeal it,” he said, suggesting that Biden would take advantage of any Republican effort to roll back the Inflation Reduction Act to draw more attention to the law’s benefits.

“I have no doubt that the White House is thinking about all of this,” Pfeifer said. But the problem is that none of it is easy.”

He added: “Most of the work starts now.”

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