EPA Report Discredits Energy Efficiency Claims

Published March 1, 2009

Touted benefits of the federal Energy Star program are overstated and inaccurate, the Inspector General for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded. The findings cast significant doubt on claims that higher energy efficiency requirements can cost-effectively achieve reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Overstated Benefits

The Inspector General’s December 17 report, Improvements Needed to Validate Reported Energy Star Benefits, confirmed the data do not support the program’s claimed gains, stating, “We found the Energy Star program’s … reported annual savings unreliable. We identified several deficiencies with the shipment data and the process used in calculating benefits.”

The report also faulted the program for relying too heavily on “estimates, forecasting, and unverified third-party reporting.”

Energy Star is a voluntary program affirming a product’s compliance with certain environmental standards. In 1992 EPA began allowing the label to be placed on computers. Since then, more than 40,000 products in 50 different categories have become eligible for Energy Star consideration.

The program was later expanded to include ratings of the commercial and industrial sectors of the economy as part of an effort toward lowering the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

‘Admission of Failure’

Tim Ballo, an attorney with the nonprofit environmental law firm EarthJustice, said the cure for underperforming energy efficiency programs is stricter Energy Star standards.

“It’s not a question of making Energy Star mandatory,” Ballo said. “There are minimum standards that cover a large number of appliances and that have to be met for the label, … but I’m all for making the minimum standards tougher.”

Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center, disagrees, saying the environmental groups’ call for tougher standards shows the program doesn’t work as they said it would.

“Ironically, groups like EarthJustice previously claimed that Energy Star and other ‘green’ building programs pay for themselves in short order,” Myers said. “Their argument now that such standards can only be successful if they are tightened is a tacit admission that these requirements don’t pay for themselves but instead kill, not create, jobs and prosperity.

“It is a pattern that repeats itself again and again as the reality of each new government approach, like requiring ‘green’ buildings, falls far short of the claims. The more we pit the environment against prosperity, the more we will fail to have either,” Myers explained.

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a Phillips Foundation journalism fellow.