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Phony products get U.S. energy-efficiency label

Investigators won certification for a gas-powered alarm clock and other bogus wares. Two agencies have vowed to mend their ways.

March 27, 2010|By Clement Tan

Reporting from Washington — Federal investigators who submitted phony products, such as a gas-powered alarm clock, to the government's energy efficiency certification program found it easy to obtain approval for the devices, according to a report released Friday.

Among the bogus devices that obtained certification was a "room air cleaner" that, in a picture prominently displayed on the website of a fictitious company, showed an electric space heater with a feather duster and strips of fly paper attached to it.

Investigators with the Government Accountability Office said they obtained Energy Star approval for 15 of 20 fake products they submitted for certification with energy-savings claims. Two were rejected and three did not receive a response. Two of the certified products received purchase requests by real companies because four bogus firms, developed for the purpose of this investigation, were listed as Energy Star partners.

"Certification controls were ineffective primarily because Energy Star does not verify energy-savings data reported by manufacturers," investigators said in the GAO report. Work for the investigation, undertaken at the request of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), started last June and did not involve products that are already certified and available to the public.

Designed to promote products that are up to 10% to 25% more energy efficient than minimum federal standards, Energy Star claims to have helped families save nearly $17 billion on utility bills in 2009 and "enough energy to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 30 million cars."

The voluntary labeling program, started in 1992, is heavily promoted through tax credits and appliance rebates. In some cases, federal agencies can purchase only certified products.

In a joint statement, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, which jointly manage the program, pledged to improve certifying standards, saying they have "started an enhanced testing program and have already taken enforcement actions against companies that have violated the rules."

Collins said the results of the GAO's investigation are "astounding and raise doubts about the validity of the Energy Star rating. It also causes concern that companies that do produce truly energy-efficient products could be out-priced by unscrupulous firms."

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