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DOE Beefs Up Energy Star, Other Efficiency Enforcement

The Department of Energy is taking a more aggressive approach on appliances that violate energy efficiency standards, with 20 new cases announced last week alone, the New York Times reports.

Samsung and Electrolux Gibson are among the companies that have failed Energy Star testing in the past year, as the DOE has beefed up its verification. Another company, Air-Con International, agreed to pay $10,000 after the DOE found that over 1,900 air conditioners sold by the company had failed to meet minimum federal standards for energy efficiency.

The two-year-old Office of Enforcement, under the department’s Office of General Counsel, has filed about 50 cases against manufacturers for non-compliance and collected over $600,000 in settlements. And a rule finalized in March will make manufacturers submit more detailed annual compliance reports.

Last week the DOE announced 20 new enforcement cases, against companies that the department said it had “reason to believe” are selling products without certification of energy efficiency or water conservation compliance. The companies include manufacturers of appliance, plumbing and lighting products.

The cases announced last week come with fines in the tens of thousands of dollars. But the DOE says companies can pay a $6,000 settlement if they file the needed paperwork within a month.

The latest cases follow 30 that the department said it successfully resolved last fall.

“Both sets of cases reflect the central goal of the department’s enforcement effort – ensuring compliance with all aspects of the department’s regulations to ensure that consumers have the information they need to buy energy- and cost-saving products,” the DOE said.

The department previously relied manufacturers to police each other’s compliance with the standards, the Times said. This led to hundreds of thousands of products going unregulated, the paper reported, and when companies did submit reports these were rarely verified.

“It was sort of on your honor, except your competitor might rat you out and then you’d be at risk of action,” Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said. “That did happen occasionally, but there was no systematic enforcement by the agency.”

Changes at the department resulted in paperwork for over 600,000 products pouring into the Office of Compliance by early 2010. Now the DOE has begun testing products to ensure they follow federal efficiency laws, as well as verifying products under the Energy Star program.

It will soon begin rulemaking to consider a more thorough verification program.

Companies’ reaction to the enforcement action has been mixed. The DOE says firms that follow the rules are happy to see a more level playing field.

But in a 2009 lawsuit, LG Electronics claimed that the department unfairly ordered the company to remove Energy Star labels from one of its refrigerators. LG said that the DOE changed the standards without warning. The two parties settled last year, but only after the DOE forced LG to remove the Energy Star label from one of its models.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers said the private sector should play a greater role in verification.

“While DOE has not released its plans to develop its own continued energy testing program related to appliance standards, AHAM encourages both DOE and EPA to utilize third-party programs, such as AHAM’s, to take advantage of these programs, which can save taxpayers money and avoid duplicative testing,” spokeswoman Jill Notini said.

The 20 cases filed last week (each company name links to a PDF of the case against that company):

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