Time to update the Energy Star program?

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The government’s Energy Star system, used to rate products and retrofitted buildings for energy efficiency, could use a fixer-upper of its own, a legislator said Monday.

The voluntary program uses relative instead of absolute ratings, comparing subjects to others in the same field, according to Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.).

For example, consumers are told that a certain Energy Star-rated washing machine uses 30% less energy than a traditional appliance but aren’t informed just how much energy is used or how much money can be saved in energy bills, Maloney said.

Energy Star ratings should be updated, she said in a letter Monday to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, whose agencies run the program.


The congressional Joint Economic Committee, which Maloney chairs, considered potential flaws in the Energy Star setup during a July hearing. In the meeting, Empire State Building owner Anthony Malkin voiced concerns about the famed structure’s energy use being compared to smaller, less-high profile ones.

The Empire State Building, which is undergoing a major energy-efficiency retrofit, uses the same amount of power as roughly 40,000 single-family homes, Maloney said in the letter.

Out of about 5 million commercial buildings in the country, fewer than 10,000 have landed the Energy Star rating. Los Angeles had the most. More than 1 million residential homes have earned the rating.

But the program suffers from shaky credibility, Maloney said, referencing a test from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The investigation found that Energy Star approval was granted for 15 of 20 bogus products, including a fictional gas-powered alarm clock.

Energy Star administrators responded by saying that they “have started an enhanced testing program and have already taken enforcement actions against companies that have violated the rules.”

-- Tiffany Hsu