WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently outlined a series of steps to further strengthen the trusted Energy Star program. This action comes at a critical time for American consumers, many of whom struggle to keep up with their monthly energy bills.

In addition to third-party testing already underway, EPA and DOE have launched a new two-step process to expand testing of Energy Star qualified products. This week, DOE began testing of some of the most commonly used appliances, which account for more than 25 percent of a household’s energy bill, and both agencies are now developing a system to test all products that earn the Energy Star label.

The steps are part of an overall effort by the Obama Administration to improve the energy efficiency of homes and appliances to save families money.

Consumers can feel confident in Energy Star because in 2009 alone, Americans, with the help of Energy Star, saved enough energy to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 30 million cars — all while saving nearly $17 billion on their utility bills.

EPA and DOE are taking aggressive action to promote confidence in the Energy Star brand through both testing and enforcement.

EPA and DOE have launched a two-step process to expand testing of Energy Star qualified products:

•DOE began tests this week on six of the most common product types: freezers, refrigerator-freezers, clothes washers, dishwashers, water heaters and room air conditioners. DOE will test approximately 200 basic models at third-party, independent test laboratories over the next few months.

•EPA and DOE are also developing an expanded system that will require all products seeking the Energy Star label to be tested in approved labs and require manufacturers to participate in an ongoing verification testing program that will ensure continued compliance.

•A few of the actions EPA and DOE have taken in recent months are listed below. These actions have been initiated to ensure compliance with both Energy Star and DOE’s appliance efficiency standards, including taking action against 35 manufacturers in the past four months. The Energy Star program helps consumers identify the products that are highly energy efficient and will save them money on utility costs, while DOE’s minimum appliance efficiency standards apply to all appliances and set a baseline energy efficiency levels for appliances.

• 2/5/09 — President Obama ordered DOE to clear the logjam and issue long-delayed appliance efficiency standards. The Department subsequently met every deadline and issued six standards in 2009 that are expected to save consumers between $250 billion and $300 billion over the next 30 years.

• 10/13/09 — DOE announced the formation of an enforcement team within the Office of the General Counsel, which is leading the department’s efforts to monitor compliance with Energy Star criteria and enforce minimum appliance standards. This includes a program to randomly review manufacturers’ compliance with DOE certification requirements and aggressively pursue any violations.

• 12/9/09 — DOE announced that it would be aggressively enforcing reporting requirements that manufacturers are required to submit to the department certifying the energy use of residential appliance models and compliance with energy efficiency standards. DOE offered manufacturers a 30-day window to submit complete and accurate reports to the department. During that period, DOE received energy use reports from 160 different manufacturers, covering more than 600,000 residential products.

The Energy Star program already has a comprehensive system in place to ensure consumer confidence that products carrying the Energy Star label actually save energy and save them money. For example, to receive an Energy Star label, manufacturers must submit data to the federal government showing that their product meets a set of clear, measurable energy efficiency program requirements outlined on

Violations of the Energy Star label tend to get big media attention, which is good, because it provides a strong disincentive for companies to skirt the system and risk a wave of negative coverage about their product. At the same time, consumers should be aware that in the past few years the number of violations has been quite small, especially given that more than 40,000 individual products carry the Energy Star label.

In 2009, EPA’s independent Inspector General conducted a “spot check” of the program, testing 60 Energy Star products. Fifty-nine of the 60 products met or exceeded the Energy Star requirements. One product, a specific model of printer, failed on one of three tests (not entering “sleep mode” fast enough).