US Agencies Toughen Up Energy Star Standards After Embarrassing Lapses

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen.com, and is reprinted with permission.

From April 16, 2010 – James Murray, BusinessGreen.com – Undercover investigators gain Energy Star accreditation for phony gas-powered alarm clock.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy this week announced emergency measures to tighten the procedures governing the award of Energy Star certification after undercover investigators revealed the current system was so flawed that made up products were able to attain accreditation.

Energy StarAccording to a report released late last month, investigators with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) were able to obtain Energy Star accreditation for 15 out of 20 fake products that they submitted under the energy efficiency labeling scheme.

The phony products included a gas-powered alarm clock and a “room air cleaner “, which was displayed in mocked up photos showing an electric space heater with a feather duster attached to it.

The GAO report, which was commissioned by Republican Senator Susan Collins, said the practice of approving products based on energy savings data presented by manufacturers themselves left the scheme “vulnerable to fraud and abuse”.

The agencies responsible for the scheme moved this week to address the issue, announcing that effective immediately all manufacturers applying for Energy Star certification would have to submit complete lab reports and results for review and approval by EPA prior to labeling.

The tightened procedure replaces the previous automated approval process that would dish out certification to any product that appeared to meet the necessary criteria.

Gina McCarthy, EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, said the new rules would help to restore confidence in the scheme. “The safeguards we’re putting into effect are essential for the millions of consumers who rely on Energy Star products to help save energy, money and the environment,” she said.

The EPA added that the approval process would be further tightened at the end of the year when new rules will be introduced requiring all manufacturers to submit test results from an approved, accredited lab for any product seeking the Energy Star label.

However, it remains to be seen if the crack down will help restore the scheme’s badly bruised credibility.

The Energy Star scheme covers a huge range of products, including white goods, computers and building materials, and is meant to promote products that are between 10 and 25 per cent more efficient than minimum federal standards.

But it has been widely criticized over the years for failing to adequately police the scheme and update standards as technologies improve – a scenario that in some cases has seen Energy Star labels carried by virtually every product in a market.

The EPA launched a crack down on products that should not be carrying the label at the start of the year, claiming its first victim when LG was ordered to stop using the label on a number of fridges that failed to meet required energy efficiency standards in independent tests.

But the reforms did not come quick enough to halt the latest embarrassing revelations and the EPA is likely to require much more widespread testing if it wants to restore confidence in the scheme.

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HOMESTAR Energy Efficiency Starts Cash For Caulkers Program

HOMESTAR and HomestarrunnerHOMESTAR was initiated by President Obama in November 2009 to encourage and incentivize the acceptance of energy efficient products and services in order to “jumpstart” the US economy. HOMESTAR is targeted towards middle class families and its latest addition, “Cash-for-Caulkers” was setup to reward homeowners for improving their home’s energy efficiency. Cash-for-Caulkers is drawn from the same family as Cash-for-Clunkers and is based on the same Jubbling principles of reducing energy consumption and in turn, reducing our need for oil. HOMESTAR’s hope is that by participating in the Cash-for-Caulkers program, homeowners can save $200-500 per year in energy costs, increase the value of their homes and help create needed jobs for installers and government oversight.

Here are the basics: [Whitehouse.gov]

  • $1,000 – $1,500 Silver Star Rebates: Consumers looking to have simple upgrades performed in their homes would be eligible for 50% rebates up to $1,000 – $1,500 for doing any of a straightforward set of upgrades, including: insulation, duct sealing, water heaters, HVAC units, windows, roofing and doors.
  • $3000 Gold Star Rebates: Consumers interested in more comprehensive energy retrofits would be eligible for a $3,000 rebate for a whole home energy audit and subsequent retrofit tailored to achieve a 20% energy savings in their homes.
  • Oversight to Ensure Quality Installations: Independent quality assurance providers would conduct field audits after work is completed to ensure proper installation so consumers receive energy savings from their upgrades.
  • Support for financing: The program would include support to State and local governments to provide financing options for consumers seeking to make efficiency investments in their homes.
  • We don’t want to be left behind at Jubbling and that is why we put together a few ideas for future consideration by HOMESTAR and actually put it in a letter. HOMESTAR sure likes the money references so we’ll stick with that theme for now:

    Jubbling suggestions for future HOMESTAR programs

    But no matter how you approach it, the federal government is going to have some oversight which translates to red tape, bureaucracy and dampens the Jubbling. So instead of giving them ideas to use on us, now might be a great opportunity for us to pass some ideas to the government on ways they can cut back and be more Jubbling. We’ll start with Air Force One. That whole flyover of Manhattan thing is a perfect example of unnecessary waste. Maybe we should ground Air Force One and President Obama could tell foreign leaders to come over here if they want to meet with him or they could just Skype each other. If they do decide to fly here, security shouldn’t be an issue because most people in the US wouldn’t recognize these world leaders anyway. But back to HOMESTAR.

    I am very interested in how Cash-for-Caulkers works out and how future HOMESTAR programs perform. I am a little skeptical but ultimately, my hope is that they are successful because their intentions are Jubbling.

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