In 2010, a congressional panel found that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star rating, which provides consumer guidance on which appliances and electronics offer efficient power usage, had standards that were laughably easy to meet. Auditors posing as fake companies were able to obtain Energy Star approval for appliances as ridiculously wasteful as a gas-powered alarm clock, in an effort to prove that the bar was not nearly high enough at the EPA.
The audit caused the EPA to reevaluate its rating process, and retroactively revoked the Energy Star seal from many large home appliances. Consumers, who had used the Energy Star rating as a barometer for their investment, were miffed that their new dryers/washing machines/gas-powered alarm clocks were sold under false energy consumption pretenses. Predictably, a flurry of class action lawsuits followed.
Now, the New York Time reports that one of the largest consumer appliance manufacturers in the world, Whirlpool Inc., has threatened that if the EPA does not block such lawsuits, it will withdraw from the Energy Star program. Whirlpool claims that the suits were prompted by mistakes made by the Fed, and therefore they and other manufacturers do not have culpability for the mislabeling.
A bill introduced in July by Representative Robert Latta, an Ohio Republican, would prevent all class actions related to the Energy Star classifications if other remediation was possible, including EPA-ordered consumer reimbursement. Latta represents Whirlpool’s home district and the bill’s co-sponsor Representative Peter Welsh, a Vermont Democrat, is honorary co-chairman of the Alliance to Save Energy. Whirlpool is an associate member of that group, which has also thrown it support behind the bill.
The proposal is seen by the plaintiff’s bar as an attack on consumer’s rights, however, defendants of similar class action lawsuits argue that the EPA already has the ability to regulate energy consumption labels, and like Whirlpool, claim they should not be responsible for federal oversight.