You’re wandering the aisles of Sears, searching for a new, energy efficient refrigerator. A blue and white logo catches your eye – Energy Star, the gold standard for energy efficiency. That should make your choice easier.
Turns out that manufacturers applying for Energy Star status have been running on a sort of honor system, with mixed results.
“There was no systematic enforcement,” says Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “It was reliance on competitors to police each other, which has spotty results."
This industry self-policing has led to hundreds of thousands of products going unregulated, and reports going unverified.
Two years ago, the Department of Energy (DoE) created the new Office of Enforcement, which has filed about 50 cases against manufacturers for noncompliance and collected more than $600,000 in settlements. The division promises “aggressive” enforcement, with 20 new cases filed this month, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
For added measure, the DoE is now testing off-the-shelf products to ensure they follow federal law, has begun verifying Energy Star compliance, and plans to begin a rule-making process that should result in tighter regulations.
Advocates like deLaski are hoping for more transparency.
"The other piece of that is making sure that the results of verification testing is made public," deLaski said. "How do we have confidence that DoE is doing a thorough job? We can't unless they tell us what products they tested and what the results are.”