TODAY   |  March 26, 2010

Probe discredits Energy Star rating

A GAO investigation reveals that many of the appliances backed by the government’s “Energy Star” program are not even tested to verify their efficiency. NBC’s Lisa Myers reports.

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>>> minor changes.

>>> if you bought an appliance during the last 18 years, you probably paid attention to the blue label, this logo for the federal government 's energy star program ? it is supposed to mean that that appliance does the same work as others but uses less energy . but now a new federal investigation shows that an energy star rating may mean less than advertised. nbc 's senior investigator correspondent lisa myers has more. good morning, lisa.

>> reporter: good morning. investigators decided to test how rigorous the process is for a product to secure the trusted energy star label. so they made up a bunch of fictitious products, products that didn't even exist. and made up energy consumption data. the results, natalie , were anything but re-assuring. the energy star label is supposed to mean that a product uses 10% to 25% less energy than the minimum federal standards. for shoppers like bob, the star matters.

>> i like the idea that i'm buying something that is energy efficient .

>> reporter: but a recent undercover investigation by the government accountability office revealed a surprising fact. most of the time, the government does not even check whether a product actually saves energy . mostly, it just takes the manufacturer's word for it. the gao managed to get 15 fake products certified by the energy star program . a washing machine . refrigerator. and even this, a gasoline-powered alarm clock .

>> how that submission raised no red flags is beyond me.

>> reporter: senator susan collins requested the gao investigation.

>> the energy star program is no guarantee that the appliances are really energy efficient .

>> reporter: the investigation found that energy star officials did not even look at this bogus room air cleaner . actually, just a space heater with a feather duster . before certifying it. it wasn't own gao 's appliances that were fake. it also managed to get four companies certified as energy star partners and they were fake, too. other recent investigations also questioned the reliability of the ratings. one refrigerator bearing the energy star designation was found to use twice as much energy as claimed. another report concluded the government cannot be certain energy star products are the more energy efficient and cost effective choice .

>> the most important thing they need to do is to require independent testing of all products.

>> reporter: officials running the program operated jointly by the department of energy and the environmental protection agency , now say they are developing a system for independent testing of all products. they insist that most products meet or exceed standards, but promise more rigorous screening of products and manufacturers. energy star officials also insist that this program has been an overwhelming success and saved consumers billions of dollars on energy . and natalie , i should point out that some of the 40,000 products certified by energy star over the years have been made by nbc 's parent company , general electric .

>> all right, lisa myers , thanks so much.