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.
Being able to count on tax credits and refunds made climate legislation — approved in August with only Democratic votes — politically more palatable than regulations imposing wholesale changes in polluting industries.
But it also means the administration’s battle against global warming will be waged “one family at a time,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, who works on energy issues at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely aligned with the House. White.
“It’s very incremental,” he said. “So it requires a very sophisticated communication strategy.”
Biden acknowledged the hurdle during a recent cabinet meeting as he spoke about the incentives becoming available this year.
“People need to know how to take advantage of these past benefits. It is up to all of us around the table here to make sure we get that message across clearly,” she said.
The White House says it is developing a plan to work with state governments, contractors, retailers and social media influencers to get the word out. “Lower your bills it will be a key driver,” said Josh Peck, senior policy adviser on clean energy issues.
He’s also partnering with Rewiring America, a nonprofit focused on ways to electrify homes and businesses, and companies like AirbnbRedfin e Lift. As part of the effort, Rewiring America has created an online calculator which shows what homeowners could be eligible for credits or discountsdepending on postcode and income.
Buying a heat pump or installing solar panels is “a major expense line and a major savings opportunity,” said Ari Matusiak, the group’s founder and chief executive officer. “So it’s really important to make sure people are aware of the resources they have at their disposal and the benefits they can unlock in terms of 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 largely unaware of the Inflation Reduction Act, the massive legislation that includes financial incentives to reduce emissions and skeptical about his 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 or nothing about the legislation. And despite the multibillion-dollar investment 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 make sure consumers know the financial benefits of energy-efficient products when they’re making key decisions about which products to buy, Peck said.
“One of the challenges here is trying to meet consumers where they are when they’re making decisions about these purchases,” she said.
According to the AP-NORC survey, most 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 financial incentives would not make a difference in their decision.
Homeowners typically are reluctant to swap furnaces or water heaters until they absolutely have to shell out the cash for them.
“One day the heat won’t come on and it’s minus 10 (degrees) outside and you’re like, ‘Oh shit, I need to get a furnace,'” said DR Richardson, co-founder of Elephant Energy, a Colorado company that helps homeowners to 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 resources.”
Most homeowners don’t understand which equipment qualifies for a tax rebate or credit — and contractors aren’t always aware either, Richardson said. While some heat pumps qualify for a full discount, others do not or are only eligible for partial discounts.
“So it’s just a nightmare if you’re not used to working in creating spreadsheets to analyze and understand all these things,” he said.
Not all incentives are ready. While people can get a tax break on the cost of an electric car, solar panels or heat pump, discounts 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 for distributing that money.
Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Home Policy Council in the Obama administration, said she has learned during her tenure that it is imperative that the government invests in implementing policies.
“Too often we, as advocates and politicians, applaud when policy is adopted and then stop paying attention,” he said. Instead, they need to design ways to address people directly to help them “understand steps they can take and ways government will make things easier.”
The Department of Energy has begun releasing information to states about their $9 billion allocation to support household energy upgrades, including weatherproof homes and the installation of heat pumps.
And Biden, a self-described “car guy,” has done his part to promote EVs, making appearances at the Detroit Auto Show in September and in the TV series “Jay Leno’s Garage”.
Donnell Bairdfounder and CEO of BlocPower, a Brooklyn, NY-based company that works with utilities, government agencies, and building owners to improve energy efficiency, has partnered with Lowe’s and other retailers to promote green appliances.
The idea, Baird said, is for “the person at the till to say, ‘You know, you can get a tax credit if you don’t get that gas lawn mower and get a green one.'” results, Baird said he is confident the tax credits and other benefits of the climate law will become better known.
“It took years for the ACA to move forward,” she said, referring to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “I think the same thing could happen with this law.”
Dan Pfeiffer, former senior communications adviser to President Barack Obama, sees another lesson in the Affordable Care Act.
“The ACA has gotten more popular the more Republicans have tried to repeal it,” he said, suggesting that Biden take advantage of any Republican effort to revert to the Inflation Reduction Act to draw more attention to the law’s benefits.
“I have no doubt the White House has thought of all of this,” Pfeifer said. But the problem is, none of this is easy.
He added, “Most of the work starts now.”
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