Massive fraud in the EPA/DOE Energy Star Program. Automated system allows fake products to get approval.
WASHINGTON — Does a “gasoline-powered alarm clock” qualify for the EnergyStar label, the government stamp of approval for an energy-saving product?
Like more than a dozen other bogus products submitted for approval since last June by Congressional auditors posing as companies, it easily secured the label, according to a Congressional report to be issued Friday. So did an “air purifier” that was essentially an electric space heater with a feather duster pasted on top, the Government Accountability Office said.
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In a nine-month study, four fictitious companies invented by the accountability office also sought EnergyStar status for some conventional devices like dehumidifiers and heat pump models that existed only on paper. The fake companies submitted data indicating that the models consumed 20 percent less energy than even the most efficient ones on the market. Yet those applications were mostly approved without a challenge or even questions, the report said.
Auditors concluded that the EnergyStar program was highly vulnerable to fraud.
Maria Vargas, an official with the Environmental Protection Agency, which runs the program with the Energy Department, said the approvals did not pose a problem for consumers because the products never existed. There was “no fraud,” Ms. Vargas emphasized. She said she doubted that many of the 40,000 genuine products with EnergyStar status had been mislabeled.
Yet auditors found problems beyond the approval of nonexistent products. They determined that once a company registered as an EnergyStar partner, it could download the logo from the government’s Web site and paste it on products for which it had not even requested approval.
The report is only the latest in a series involving the 18-year-old EnergyStar program, which was set up to guide the public on energy-efficient choices that could both save people money and help reduce the nation’s runaway energy consumption.
Watchdogs within the Environment Protection Agency and the Department of Energy have reported in the past that Energy Star has taken some claims of energy efficiency on faith. Yet the new study suggests that it often does so on remote control.
Congressional auditors said they were told by EnergyStar officials that some of the approvals, including the one for the gasoline alarm clock, had been issued by an automated system and that the details had probably never been reviewed by a human being.
Read the rest at the New York Times here.
A full report is available at the GAO:
Summary web page here.
Highlights PDF here
Detailed report PDF here