Department of Energy hits LG in Energy Star crackdown

In a move that looks set to herald a major crackdown on firms that breach the conditions of its high-profile Energy Star energy-efficiency labelling scheme, the US Department of Energy (DoE) last week announced that it is to strip LG Electronics of the right to use the green certification label on 20 models of its refrigerators.

The ban, which comes into effect from 20 January, follows auditing activity undertaken by the DoE and the Environmental Protection Agency last October in the wake of criticism that the scheme was being discredited by revelations that some products carry the Energy Star label despite being in breach of the required standards.

Under the scheme, producers of energy-efficient windows or low-energy LED lighting systems have to ensure that their energy-efficiency test results were audited by independent third-party organisations, but the same is not true of manufacturers of household appliances such as fridges, washing machines and dishwashers. They can simply present their results directly to the DoE for certification without the need for independent checks - a scenario that critics believe has led to some products overstating their green credentials.

The DoE has said it now plans to tighten its enforcement procedures for the Energy Star scheme, and LG has become the first company to fall foul of the crackdown after the department said it had asked multiple independent laboratories to test the company's French-door fridge-freezers against existing procedures and found that the appliances did not qualify for certification.

The investigation was undertaken after tests by consumer rights body Consumer Reports last year found that the energy used by the fridges was generally about twice that claimed by the company.

However, LG is to challenge the DoE's decision and has already responded by filing a lawsuit against the department in a federal court, alleging that the agency had not adequately clarified the rules around Energy Star's testing processes.

The DoE said it requires manufacturers to run tests while ice-making systems are turned on but are "inoperative" or not in active operation. This enables testers to assess overall energy use while the ice-maker is switched on, but not actively producing ice.

But LG is arguing that it understood the word "inoperative" to mean turning the ice-maker off completely, hence the apparent discrepancy in energy use. The manufacturer has also alleged that it will suffer irreparable harm if it loses the Energy Star certification, not least because it will affect its ability to participate in energy-efficient appliance rebate programmes.

A spokeswoman for the DoE confirmed that the ruling against LG was part of a wider initiative to crack down on breaches of the Energy Star standard, telling the New York Times that further action was likely.

"The Obama administration has made energy efficiency one of its highest priorities, undertaking a multi-pronged effort to expand access to energy-efficiency technologies, protect the Energy Star label, and increase the enforcement of minimum efficiency standards for appliances," she said. "Over the coming months, the Department of Energy will continue to move aggressively to meet our energy-efficiency goals and ensure that the American people are benefiting from the energy and cost savings promised by manufacturers across the country."

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