Biden's next climate hurdle: Enticing Americans to buy green

John Paul, front, and David Valenzuela work to install a heat pump in an 80-year-old rowhouse Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in northwest Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
John Paul, front, and David Valenzuela work to install a heat pump in an 80-year-old rowhouse Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in northwest Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden persuaded Democrats in Congress to provide hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change. Now comes another formidable task: enticing 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 to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

Relying on tax credits and rebates made the climate legislation -- 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 battle against global warming will be waged "one household 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 White House.

"It is very incremental," she said. "So it requires a very sophisticated communications strategy."

Biden acknowledged the hurdle during a recent Cabinet meeting as he talked about the incentives that are becoming available this year.

"Folks need to know how to take advantage of these benefits that we passed. That's on all of us around the table here to make sure we get that message out clearly," he said.

The White House says it is piecing together a plan to partner with state governments, contractors, retailers and social media influencers to get the word out. "Lowering utility bills is going to be a key driver," said Josh Peck, a senior policy adviser on clean energy issues.

But the White House faces an uphill battle.

Polling shows that while Americans support action to slow climate change, they are broadly unaware of the Inflation Reduction Act, the massive legislation that includes financial incentives to lower emissions, and skeptical of their own role in the climate crisis.

Homeowners typically are reluctant to swap out furnaces or water heaters until they absolutely have to shell out the money for them.

"One day the heat won't turn 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 to get people to think ahead of time about how to replace these assets."

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

Donnel Baird, founder and CEO of BlocPower, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company that partners with utilities, government agencies and building owners to improve energy efficiency, has worked with Lowe's and other retailers to promote green appliances.

The idea, Baird said, is that "the checkout person says, 'You know, you can get a tax credit if you don't get that gas lawn mower and get a green one instead.'″ While such engagement may not have immediate results, Baird said he's confident the tax credits and other benefits of the climate law will become better 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 thing could happen with this law.″

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