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Energy Star: A cheap and easy seal of approval

You won't believe what garnered the government's Energy Star seal of approval in a sting set up by the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan federal auditor: A gasoline-powered alarm clock. That's right, a completely bogus gasoline-powered alarm clock. Here's the GAO's phony marketing description for the 18-by-15-by-10-inch clock radio: "Gas-powered clock radio is sleek, durable, easy on your electric bill, and surprisingly quiet."

Surprisingly quiet! I'll tell you I have never found these kinds of yuks in a GAO document.

Want more? The GAO also got Energy Star approval--in just 11 days--for a "room air cleaner." The fake product image the testers posted on their fake company's Web site showed a tower-style space heater with a Swiffer-like duster and fly strips attached.
Seriously, you've gotta see it.

The GAO set up fake companies, which easily got Energy Star certification, and then submitted 20 fake products for the valuable seal of approval. Most were plausible products such as a refrigerator or geothermal heat pump. But the Energy Star program demanded independent verification of the energy-savings claims for only four products. Two products (a compact fluorescent lightbulb and a ventilating fan) were rejected. GAO withdrew three products (including an "electric office hammer") because testers didn't get a reply before their investigation ended.

There's real money at stake in the Energy Star program. Many consumers are willing to pay extra for an appliance, window, furnace, computer or other piece of hardware carrying the sticker. The government makes big rebates available on the basis of Energy Star ratings and requires that government agencies purchase Energy Star-certified products. But the GAO found that the program (a joint venture between the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency) does too little to verify information submitted by manufacturers. "Energy Star is for the most part a self-certification program vulnerable to fraud and abuse," says the GAO report. Remember that before you pay a premium for that sticker.

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 26, 2010; 3:13 PM ET
Categories:  Funny , Home features , New construction , Remodeling and repair  
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