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Enforcing Energy-Efficiency Standards

September 13, 2010 - 4:37pm


Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has said that when it comes to remediating climate change and promoting energy independence, improved energy efficiency is not just low-hanging fruit—it’s fruit lying on the ground. In other words, improving the energy efficiency of the products that we all use must be a critical component of any long-term national energy strategy.

As a part of its mission to help consumers purchase energy efficient products that will save them money, the Department sets energy efficiency standards for a vast array of consumer and commercial products. But when I arrived at DOE, I was stunned to discover that the Department had never systematically enforced DOE’s 35-year-old energy efficiency standards. The problem, of course, is that lax enforcement of energy efficiency standards undermines the goal of increased energy efficiency. When efficiency standards are not regularly enforced, bad actors soon learn that they can gain an unfair economic advantage over law-abiding competitors by falsely or improperly certifying the efficiency of their products. This not only distorts competition in the short-term, but it undermines the kind of long-term competition that drives innovation.

Over the past year, we have thus moved quickly and decisively to end that situation. We made clear that manufacturers who failed properly to certify compliance with DOE standards were violating the law. We created an Enforcement Team of attorneys dedicated to enforcing energy efficiency standards. We brought enforcement actions against manufacturers of uncertified and non-compliant products. And when a large foreign company tried to argue that DOE could not legally withdraw the ENERGY STAR mark from its refrigerator-freezers because they violated Energy Star efficiency requirements, DOE fought the claim in court and won.

Since we began our effort, manufacturers have newly certified more than 600,000 products as meeting our energy efficiency standards. We have initiated seventy-five enforcement investigations and actions— including an unprecedented 27 new penalty actions announced today against companies selling products in the United States without certifying their compliance with the federal standards. Before our effort, the number of enforcement actions that had been brought was zero. We have removed from the market sixty-six products that failed to meet our minimum energy efficiency standards. Before our effort, the number of products that had been removed from the market was zero.

Further detail on all of this is available on the Enforcement News page and from the Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Enforcement.

Overall, our enforcement message is simple: From now on, compliance with all aspects of DOE energy efficiency standards will be expected, and those standards will be enforced. Effective enforcement of the Department’s efficiency standards will save energy and costs for American consumers and create incentives to reward those businesses that incur the risks and the costs needed to create more efficient products.