Fake products get Energy Star approval

The Energy Star logo

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: The refrigerator in my house is, believe it or not, 25 years old. So obviously we need a new one. That's why I read today's Government Accountability Office report on the Energy Star program with some interest. Over the course of a nine-month investigation, the GAO submitted fake and sometimes bizarre machines to get them certified as top of the line in energy efficiency. And they often did get them certified, no questions asked.

Jim Snyder writes for the congressional newspaper The Hill in Washington. Jim, welcome to the program.

Jim Snyder: Well thanks. Nice to be here.

Ryssdal: Give me some sense of -- I hesitate to call them "appliances" -- but these machines that the GAO submitted?

Snyder: Yeah, the GAO set up four fake companies and submitted applications for 20 products for Energy Star certification. One was a gas-powered alarm clock the size of a small generator. Another one was a room cleaner, which they sent a photograph of a feather duster adhered to a space heater.

Ryssdal: I love that. I love the image of this gasoline-powered thing next to your bed, while you're asleep, trying not to wake up.

Snyder: Sounds pretty efficient.

Ryssdal: That's right. The upshot of this GAO report was that this is kind of a self-reported, self-monitored thing that leaves itself open to all kinds of fraud and abuse.

Snyder: That's right. The GAO and the companies that they set up, they would submit an application, and often, they would be approved for the Energy Star program within 24 hours.

Ryssdal: Yeah. My favorite part was that once one appliance in a company is Energy Star-certified, you can apparently just download that Energy Star sticker and stick it on a bunch of other things.

Snyder: Yeah. It's like getting a passport to the program. You can stick it on any product that you make, apparently.

Ryssdal: But there's a lot of money on the line, right, with these Energy Star appliances?

Snyder: There is and there's even more money now, since Congress passed the stimulus package a year ago, which included $300 million for a state rebate program to encourage consumers to buy an Energy Star-certified products and it also expanded tax credits that consumers get.

Ryssdal: So what is Energy Star, which is run by the EPA and the Department of Energy, I mean, what do they have to do to get things right?

Snyder: Well, the GAO suggested that they have some sort of more rigorous testing. Up front. The DOE and the EPA say that the problems aren't just that, as the GAO depicts in its report, because do they do a lot of after-market testing.

Ryssdal: Consumers and tax payers kind of get it coming and going on this one, right? Because not only are we footing the bill for Energy Star appliances through the stimulus package, but we're conceivably getting Energy Star appliances that aren't really Energy Star worthy.

Snyder: Well, that's the worry. And different reports have found that the after-market testing isn't even that extensive. But it does raise some concerns for consumers that they wouldn't be getting the promised energy savings, because these appliances and products are more expensive than others are. So, I don't know that consumers need to be overly concerned that the products that they're buying aren't as good as advertised, but they should be aware that there's a possibility that they're not.

Ryssdal: Jim Snyder, covers energy and the environment for the congressional newspaper, The Hill. Jim, thanks a lot for your time.

Snyder: Thank you.

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