Pure ideology at work, killing the Energy Star program
The Energy Star program costs very little and greatly increases the efficiency of consumer products through free-market competition. It’s hard to see any reason to kill the program, but reasoning is not held in high esteem on the extreme conservatives that now seem to have a lock on our government. Evan Halper reports in the LA Times:
Commercial real estate giant CBRE is always on alert for shifts in federal government policy that might impact its vast property management and investment business.
But the Los Angeles-based Fortune 500 company never anticipated an effort to eliminate a voluntary, cost-effective initiative that has saved its customers millions of dollars and had almost no critics.
In a reflection of how much influence a handful of free-market think tanks wield over the White House, the Trump administration has decided the immensely popular Energy Star program must go.
The fight centers on the Environmental Protection Agency’s 25-year-old effort to boost efficiency in products and services by encouraging companies to compete for coveted, government-issued labels that certify a product or property meets high standards for saving energy and costs.
Functioning like a government seal of approval, the Energy Star program costs taxpayers a pittance and is widely beloved by the 16,000 companies and organizations that participate. Now it is fast becoming a test case of how committed the Trump administration is to pursuing the agenda of once-fringe groups seeking to slash government programs wherever they can.
“Never in my wildest thoughts have I considered something like this,” said Dave Pogue, who leads the sustainability efforts at CBRE. He said the program helped the firm cut energy use at its properties by 16% over the last decade.
The proposal has been met with shock across party lines. Christie Todd Whitman, who ran the EPA during the administration of George W. Bush said, “not in a million years” would she have targeted Energy Star. “There was no reason to,” she said. “It was a no-brainer. It worked, and it hardly cost any money.”
But in a Trump administration eager to roll back federal government action to confront climate change, Energy Star has come under scrutiny. The plan to jettison the program from the federal government, now embedded in the White House budget blueprint, emerged after Trump placed Myron Ebell, a prominent climate skeptic, in charge of his EPA transition team.
Ebell’s team disbanded in January and did not write Trump’s budget plan, which envisions a privatization scheme where industry would set its own definitions for what products are efficient and police standards itself. But the team provided the administration with a confidential list of proposals aimed at helping the president fulfill his stated goal during the campaign of shrinking the agency as much as possible. Ebell has been one of the most visible critics of voluntary government energy efficiency programs like Energy Star.
“The EPA is meant to improve environmental quality,” said Ebell, director of environmental initiatives at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank on the forefront of disputing the scientific consensus on climate change, as well as the health impacts of tobacco. “I’m not sure what that has to do with how much energy consumers use. But a great deal of the work at EPA has been dedicated to that. The president made clear during the campaign he will get rid of as much of that as he possibly can.”
The voluntary program’s legions of loyalists say Energy Star has everything to with environmental quality. The nation’s biggest companies compete aggressively to win Energy Star labels for their products, which signal to consumers that everything from the air conditioners they purchase at Best Buy to the buildings where they lease office space engage advanced technologies to use the least possible amount of power. The eagerness to meet consumer demand for that seal of approval has driven firms to invest big in cutting energy use.
Energy Star has been a pillar of the federal government’s effort to fight climate change, with the EPA boasting that it has kept some 2.8 billion tons of greenhouse gas from escaping into the atmosphere — or roughly the equivalent produced from powering 36 million homes with electricity each year. It has enabled consumers and businesses to cut their energy bills more than $30 billion per year.
At an annual cost of $60 million to taxpayers, it is easily the cheapest and least burdensome initiative the federal government runs to help Americans lower their energy consumption. States have latched onto the program, awarding their own rebates and other incentives to utility customers who use Energy Star products.
Until Trump took office, the voices of a handful of free-market think tanks that dismissed the program as unnecessary government meddling had barely registered in Washington. Now they have the ear of the White House.
“I just think it is something government should not be doing,” Ebell said, “and therefore we should get rid of it. If it has value, private industry can pick it up.” He blames the program for pushing companies to place too much focus on efficiency, saying it leaves consumers with inferior products to choose from. The climate benefits the EPA has boasted about don’t impress Ebell, who accuses scientists of exaggerating the threat of global warming. . .
There’s not much point in rebutting the arguments of conservatives today, since they so frequently argue in bad faith. I’m thinking the US is headed in a very bad direction indeed. (Have you noticed how much government agencies—local, county, state, and federal—are increasingly refusing to provide to the public information on their decisions, procedures, and operations? How police are so seldom held accountable for misconduct? The pattern is clear, and we’ve seen where it goes.
The actual reason for killing Energy Star is that the conservative business mindset actively opposes providing information to customers. It took a fierce battle to get the nutrition facts label on processed foods, for example: the companies making those foods did not want to provide information to the customers. Apparently companies making appliances do not want customers to know how efficient the appliance is. If the customer can’t learn the efficiency rating, the initial cost of the appliance can be cut (or, more likely, profits can be boosted) since (say) insulation ratings can be reduced. This means the appliance will cost the customer more to operate, but of course the appliance manufacturer doesn’t pay that cost and so doesn’t care. So long as the customer can be kept ignorant of the operating costs, those costs are not a factor in the purchase decision, and the manufacturer can make more money.