As The New York Times reported this week, the Department of Energy has admitted that it isn't policing manufacturers to make sure their appliances are Energy Star-qualified. In other words, that yellow label on air conditioners, washing machines, refrigerators and other white goods -- the one that is supposed to tell you how energy-efficient it is -- may not be accurate.
According to the Times, "While the Energy Department requires manufacturers of windows and L.E.D. and fluorescent lighting to have independent laboratories evaluate their products, the report said, companies that make refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters and room air-conditioners, which consume far more energy, can certify those appliances themselves."
The irony here is that the story came to light not because some consumer watchdog group blew the whistle, but because a refrigerator manufacturer complained about a rival. In 2008 settlement with the government, LG agreed to modify some of its refrigerators -- which, though labeled as Energy Star-certified, in fact did not meet federal standards -- to make them more efficient and compensate owners. The kicker is that even with the modifications, certain LG and Kenmore refrigerators (made by LG for Sears) still don't qualify for an Energy Star rating.
The Energy Department, which runs the Energy Star program with the Environmental Protection Agency, has vowed to apply greater oversight and have all efficiency ratings independently verified. But according to the Times, there's no time frame for this to occur.
This news comes on the heels of an announcement earlier this month that Energy Star-qualified appliances will be eligible for a federal rebate this fall, much like this summer's "cash for clunkers" program. ConsumerSearch discusses that forthcoming program in a previous blog post.