Energy Star May Lose Electronics Makers After Rules Change

Energy Star Appliances
A salesperson at the ABT store shows a refrigerator during a promotion offering a 15 percent rebate on certain Energy Star appliances in Glenview, Illinois, 2010. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg

By Ari Natter

Electronics manufacturers are threatening to drop out of Energy Star, saying recent changes have made participation in the federal government's voluntary energy efficiency labeling program too costly.

Among the chief complaints is a requirement that companies seeking an Energy Star label have their products' energy usage tested in third-party labs. Previously, companies were allowed to conduct the tests themselves after signing an agreement "committing" that their products met Energy Star specifications.

The testing requirements have become "costly to the point where companies question whether it is worth it to go through the Energy Star process," according to Doug Johnson, vice president of technology policy for the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents companies like Apple and Sony Electronics. "Our members have been reevaluating whether it's worth participating in the Energy Program on a model-by-model basis," he told BNA.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which jointly administers the Energy Star program with the Department of Energy, implemented the new third-party certification requirements in January last year, following a series of embarrassing and negative reports about the program. One report by the Government Accountability Office found that a "gasoline-powered alarm clock" and other fictitious products were able to receive Energy Star certification.

Other groups have complaints about the third-party certification requirement, including the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and the Information Technology Industry Council, whose members include computer maker Dell Inc, and Texas Instruments, Inc.

Concerns about the "increased cost and bureaucracy" have led to internal discussions about not seeking Energy Star qualification for all products, said Rick Goss, ITIC's vice president for environment and sustainability.

A coalition of House lawmakers have joined the fray as well, writing a letter last month to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson which said the third-party certification requirements may have "inadvertently created a disincentive" for participation in the Energy Star program that could "undermine, not protect, the value of the Energy Star brand."

"[I]t has come to our attention that EPA's imposition of third-party certification requirements across the entire program may have been unjustified in some cases, costly in many cases, and counterproductive with respect to the Energy Star brand and future participation in the program," according to the letter, which was signed by eight lawmakers, including Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

EPA said May 3 that it was reviewing the letter and would "respond accordingly."

The Energy Star program, which began in 1992, has prevented more than 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon pollution and saved consumers about $230 billion over the past 20 years, according to the EPA.

"In order to continue to be valuable in the marketplace for consumers, manufacturers, retailers and utilities, increased oversight of the product certification process has become necessary," EPA said to BNA. "Third-party certification is one among a number of comprehensive program enhancements that will ensure that Energy Star remains a trusted symbol of environmental protection through superior efficiency."

Ari Natter covers energy efficiency and renewables for Bloomberg BNA and the World Climate Change Report blog.

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-0- May/09/2012 15:01 GMT
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