GAO: Energy Star program 'vulnerable to fraud and abuse'

Bob Tippee
Editor

If you planned to apply for an Energy Star rebate for that gasoline-powered alarm clock you’ve been admiring, you’re too late.

Although the high-octane timepiece received Energy Star certification for energy-use efficiency, it isn’t real. It’s one of 15 bogus projects for which the General Accountability Office won program approval in an investigation.

Administered by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Star identifies products and buildings that use energy with superior efficiency.

It claims to have helped US energy consumers save nearly $17 billion on utility bills last year.

“Energy Star provides a trustworthy label on over 60 product categories (and thousands of models) for the home and office,” says the program web site.

But GAO found Energy Star to be “for the most part a self-certification program vulnerable to fraud and abuse.”

The fake projects for which it scored Energy Star labels were among 20 it submitted. It received rejections for two projects and no response for three.

GAO also won certification on a fictitious geothermal heat pump for which it claimed energy performance better than any other certified product. Energy Star didn’t question the data.

It also received approval of a phony computer monitor 30 min after applying. And a fake refrigerator “was submitted, qualified, and listed on the Energy Star web site within 24 hr,” GAO said.

“GAO found that for our bogus products, certification controls were ineffective primarily because Energy Star does not verify energy-savings data reported by manufacturers,” the agency said.

DOE and EPA officials told GAO after-market tests and self-policing are supposed to uphold standards. GAO didn’t check controls on products already certified and available for sale.

But it said earlier DOE and EPA inspector general and GAO reports “have found that current Energy Star controls do not ensure products meet efficiency guidelines.”

The GAO published its new report as $300 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act becomes available for state-administered rebates on purchases of Energy Star appliances.

DOE and EPA say they’ve started “enhanced testing” program and taken “enforcement actions” against companies that have violated program rules.

(Online Apr. 2, 2010; author’s e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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