RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Next, when it comes to going green, the Obama administration is putting its money where its mouth is.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The federal government is offering tax credits and rebates for making energy efficiency improvements to your home. In many cases, getting those savings means buying Energy Star appliances or their equivalents. But there's lots of evidence showing that those products are not very efficient, which is supposed to be the point.
We reached Consumer Reports Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman to explain.
Welcome to the program.
Ms. CELIA KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN (Consumer Reports): Thank you.
INSKEEP: Let's start with - what can you get, a rebate or tax credit, for buying?
Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: Well, the tax credits were for making energy efficiency improvements to your home; things like improving the insulation, upgrading your furnaces or air conditioning systems. And those tax credits were in effect for any renovations made within 2009 and now in 2010.
INSKEEP: How do I prove that I've, whatever I've done to the house, made it more energy efficient?
Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: Those credits go by the actual product. The product itself had to meet efficiency standard, which was generally that they had to be Energy Star and you have to have a receipt from the manufacturer and from the contractor.
INSKEEP: So generally you're saying that you have to be buying these Energy Star products. A lot of people have probably seen that little blue and white logo on some appliance, refrigerator or something. I guess it means that it's met certain efficiency standards. But when you guys at Consumer Reports tested a bunch of Energy Star products, what did you find?
Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: Well, we find that not all of the products are as efficient as they claimed to be. We found particularly problems with refrigerators. And part of that problem is that the Energy Star program is a self-certifying program, which means the manufacturers are the ones who supply the data to the government and they're the ones that say that, yes, my product is energy-efficient.
And for the most part, that's working very well, but there are some serious problems with that because you have manufacturers self-certifying and you don't have anyone checking on them.
INSKEEP: The Government Accountability Office did a test recently.
Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: Yeah.
INSKEEP: They submitted 20 completely bogus products for Energy Star certification.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Fifteen of them were approved, including the gasoline-powered alarm clock. I'm glad that that could get that little Energy Star logo.
Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: One of the things that I found very disturbing about the report, in addition to the bogus products that got the Energy Star, was how quickly they got the Energy Star, how quickly those products became listed on the Department of Energy's Web site. So that if a consumer was looking for a product, they would think that that product was more efficient.
INSKEEP: This underlines the key point here. Even if I go to the Department of Energy's Web site, which makes it look like a government endorsement, what I'm looking at is the company's press release. They're telling me what they say they have done.
Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: That's correct. And the Department of Energy has said that they are going to move toward a program of third-party verification. But we also think the next thing they need to work on is the actual tests themselves, because another criticism that we've had is many of the tests are woefully out of date, and they don't necessarily replicate the experience that the consumer's going to have in the home, which means that you're not going to get necessarily the energy savings that is going to be implied by the Energy Star sticker.
INSKEEP: So on balance, can I actually trust this Energy Star rating? I know I can trust it to get me a tax break and it's tax week, but can I actually trust this rating to save me energy?
Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: I think it's a good relative rating. But there are instances like I've mentioned with refrigerators, with freezers, that the numbers are not quite what they seem to be.
INSKEEP: Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman of Consumer Reports, thanks very much.
Ms. KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: You're very welcome.