President Joe Biden began a two-year tour to sell the climate bill Tuesday night.
His first stop was the Capitol.
Biden, the first U.S. president who can rightfully claim a massive legislative victory to combat climate change, used his State of the Union address to launch a likely reelection campaign that will feature remarkable changes to the nation’s energy and transportation systems stemming from the Inflation Reduction Act and its $370 billion in climate spending.
“The Inflation Reduction Act is also the most significant investment ever in climate change — ever,” Biden said. “Lowering utility bills, creating American jobs, leading the world to a clean energy future.”
Biden will take his climate message on the road for the next two years in the lead-up to the 2024 election. The tour continues Wednesday when Biden travels to a Laborers’ International Union of North America training center near Madison, Wis., to tout an expanded solar battery manufacturing facility and explain how his economic and climate agenda is creating jobs.
Since the Inflation Reduction Act was passed in August, companies have announced more than 100,000 new positions in climate-related jobs, according to an analysis released this week by the environmental group Climate Power. Battery manufacturing, electric vehicle production and other clean energy facilities have been announced in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Ohio (Climatewire, Feb. 7).
“The climate crisis doesn’t care if you’re in a red or blue state. It’s an existential threat,” Biden said Tuesday. “We have an obligation not to ourselves but to our children and our grandchildren to confront it. I’m proud of how America at last is stepping up to the challenge.
“We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while. … But there’s so much more to do. We’ve got to finish the job.”
Now Biden has to use his bully pulpit to sell that climate message. The White House has announced that administration officials will travel to 30 cities across the country to get the message out in the coming months.
It won’t be easy.
Polls show a majority of Americans are unfamiliar with the Inflation Reduction Act. That means Biden won’t just have to battle it out against former President Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) if he wants to win reelection. He also has to win over a public that sees his first two years in office as a failure.
Almost two-thirds, or 62 percent, of Americans think Biden has accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing,” according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday. That means Biden has received little credit for his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, his gun control bill or the Inflation Reduction Act.
One of the key provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act is support for EVs, including a $7,500 tax credit for people who buy new vehicles. But a majority of Americans don’t know about those incentives. More than half, or 56 percent of poll respondents, said Biden has not made EVs more affordable.
Biden will also face pressure from climate activists, who will greet the president in Wisconsin on Wednesday, as well as other administration officials as they make stops in Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania in the coming weeks.
Jamal Raad, executive director at Evergreen Action, said he isn’t surprised that a “bill passed in the middle of summer in Washington, D.C., doesn’t have worldwide name recognition.” He said Biden needs to raise its profile — while showing he’s willing to go further on climate policy.
“We’re going to need aggressive executive action, and the most important part is reining in pollution in the power sector, because we didn’t go as far as we should in the IRA,” he said.
With a divided Congress, Biden will have to rely on executive orders and regulations to achieve his remaining climate agenda, including cutting more carbon from power plants and vehicles. But those actions will be vulnerable to a future Republican president.
On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Democrats said that Biden, as well as members of Congress, will spend the next year making the public more aware of their accomplishments.
Congress and the White House will work together to ensure the Inflation Reduction Act is implemented properly, said House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Separately, they’ll let people know how the bill could improve their lives, he said. Democrats need “to be in conversation with the American people about the fact that Democrats have delivered meaningful change.”
“A lot has been accomplished,” Jeffries told reporters at the Capitol before the speech. “In some ways, it’s an abundance of riches that we are now responsible to communicate effectively to everyday Americans that Democrats have delivered.”
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) acknowledged that the party had work to do to combat Republican attacks on the Inflation Reduction Act and the party’s other big legislative victories if they want to run on its record. He said it will be “a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity.”
“And I think you will see House Democrats over the course of the next several weeks and months talk more about the ways in which the historic legislation that was enacted in the prior 117th Congress is making a real difference in people’s lives back home in Colorado, in Illinois, in Texas, in Minnesota and across the country,” he said.
New York Rep. Paul Tonko, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s panel on the environment, said the public needs to hear how Biden’s climate legislation strengthens both national security and the economy.
The Inflation Reduction Act, the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the CHIPS and Science Act, Tonko said, “are cornerstones of investment, historic in proportion — great progressive policy that we haven’t seen the likes of in decades.”
Republicans have been hammering a message that national security depends on fossil fuel production. And after a year of high gasoline prices pressured Biden into calling for more oil and gas development, Democrats are eager for the president to pivot away from fossil fuels. They’re listening for him to make the connection between boosting renewable energy and avoiding the next oil crisis.
“I just think we need to repeat over and over again until the message is heard,” Tonko said. “We can’t be beholden to the fluctuations and concerns of a fossil industry. We need to develop security by having control over our destiny.”
Biden’s climate accomplishments also serve another role: They unify Democrats across the ideological spectrum.
Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), an ally of the natural gas industry who helped negotiate a more narrow methane fee when Democrats were formulating their signature climate bill, said Biden’s record has been investing in domestic energy while also cutting emissions.
“Americans and Texans need to know that Congress and the President are delivering for our energy future,” she said in a statement to E&E News, citing the Inflation Reduction Act and the infrastructure deal. “Both bills have strong energy provisions.”
Both moderate and progressive lawmakers want the president to continue his hard sell of his climate policies after Tuesday’s speech.
“I think he just needs to keep stressing that,” said New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Biden has to be the salesman, he continued, because he can’t rely on the media to focus on his accomplishments.
“But that’s our job,” Pallone added. “Our job is to get things done. So he just has to talk about what we’ve gotten done.”