The Environmental Protection Agency certified that a “gas-powered clock radio” was an energy-efficient product under the government’s Energy Star program, despite the fact that neither the clock nor its manufacturer ever existed.
The clock and 14 other phony products were part of an investigation into the Energy Star program conducted by the Government Accountability Office, which submitted 20 fraudulent Energy Star applications from four fake companies. The EPA evaluated 16 of those products while the Department of Energy (DOE) evaluated four. Fifteen of the phony products – including the gas-powered alarm clock – and all four of the fake companies were certified by EPA/DOE under the Energy Star program. GAO conducted the investigation between June 2009 to March 2010, setting up fake Web sites and using rented post office boxes and cell phones to make it look like its fake companies were real. (See fake companies’ Web sites: Cool Rapport, Futurizon Solar Innovations, Spartan Digital Electronics, and Tropical Thunder.)
One of the phony products, which GAO submitted as an energy-efficient air cleaner, was pictured on a phony Web site as nothing more than a space heater with a feather duster taped to it. “Using fictitious information, we were able to obtain Energy Star partnership for four bogus manufacturing firms, using only Web sites, commercial mailboxes, and cell phones to serve as a backstop corporate presence,” GAO reported. “All four bogus companies were granted Energy Star partnership by EPA and/or DOE within 2 weeks.”
In addition to certifying 15 of the 20 bogus products, EPA/DOE rejected only two and failed to act on three.
One of the products that EPA failed to act on was described by the GAO as an “electric office hammer.” The others were a battery charging system and a decorative lighting string, both of which submitted fake test results. The lighting string cited a nonexistent testing laboratory. GAO said the fact that it could so easily dupe the government showed that the Energy Star program, designed to inform the public about which products are the most energy efficient, provides scant assurance for consumers. “Our investigation found that companies can easily submit fictitious energy-efficiency claims in order to obtain Energy Star qualifications for a broad range of consumer products,” the GAO report said. “[T]he current process for becoming an Energy Star partner and certifying specific products as Energy Star compliant provides little assurance that products with the Energy Star label are some of the most efficient on the market.” Launched in 1992, Energy Star was designed to promote, and help consumers identify, energy-efficient products in over 60 categories by certifying that they meet certain efficiency requirements. Generally, such products are up to 25 percent more efficient than the federal minimum standard, GAO said.