One might assume that there’s a rigorous process in place to ensure that the 40,000-plus products certified with the federal government’s Energy Star rating are, well, energy-efficient. The labels influence consumer behavior, and the government subsidizes the purchase of these products.
GAO’s investigation shows that Energy Star is for the most part a self-certification program vulnerable to fraud and abuse. GAO obtained Energy Star certification for 15 bogus products, including a gas-powered alarm clock. Two bogus products were rejected by the program and 3 did not receive a response.
That’s a .750 batting average — not for Energy Star, but for the fake products.
The manner in which the fake products were certified is alarming. One of the products, a computer monitor, received Energy Star approval within 30 minutes of its application, GAO reports. Four more were approved within 24 hours.
Another product, a geothermal heat pump, elicited no attempt by Energy Star to verify its efficiency claims, even though it was pitched as being “more efficient than any product listed as certified on the Energy Star Web site at the time of the submission.” Ditto for a dehumidifier that claimed to beat the most efficient product on the market by at least 20 percent.
To the left, you can see one of the fake products: Nothing more than a space heater with a feather duster attached to it, described in its application as an “air room cleaner.”
Applications were sent to both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. Each was equally bad, approving three-quarters of the applications.
Worse, the four bogus firms which the GAO set up to market these fake wares all were granted status as “Energy Star partners” without verification within two weeks of applying. Partnership status gives a company “unlimited access to Energy Star logos and other promotional resources,” GAO reports.
GAO notes that Energy Star claims to verify products’ efficiency claims after they are approved for the label, but that previous investigations by GAO and other government agencies have concluded that these controls don’t work.
Somehow, I don’t think this is what scientist James Lovelock meant when he said humans are not “clever enough to handle [as] complex a situation as climate change.”
But don’t worry — health care will be much better, I’m sure.