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CU comments regarding the Appliance Standards Improvement Act of 2009

Before the
The Appliance Standards Improvement Act of 2009
MARCH 19, 2009

Good morning Chairman Bingaman, Ranking Member Murkowski and distinguished members of this Committee. I am Mark Connelly, Senior Director of Appliance & Home Improvement for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to address this Committee regarding legislation to improve appliance standards (S. 598, the Appliance Standards Improvement Act), an issue that is not only critical for our energy security, but important to consumers’ pocketbooks.
For the past 30 years I have focused my career on product performance testing for manufacturers as well as for consumers. I have worked in and managed testing laboratories that assessed a wide range of products. Consumers Union has been publishing our test results and informing consumers for more than 70 years, currently reaching approximately 8 million subscribers through our print and online products. I now run the appliance testing program for Consumer Reports, and have worked in appliance testing laboratories for more than 20 years. My background gives me a unique perspective for understanding product testing in a competitive marketplace and the critical importance of how best to inform consumers about those test results.
The Energy Star program has been successful in raising consumers’ awareness of energy efficiency as an important consideration in purchasing decisions, but Energy Star needs to keep up with a changing marketplace in order to stay relevant. Today, more than 70% of U.S. consumers are aware of the Energy Star logo. For many, the presence of an Energy Star makes a very complicated decision a simple yes or no.
Consumer demand for Energy Star -labeled appliances and electronics has prompted manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their products. Energy Star has also helped to raise efficiency standards, making products such as washing machines much more efficient than those sold 10 years ago. As you know, the 17 year old program co-administered by the EPA and DOE covers more than 50 product categories. It is a voluntary standard that many manufacturers choose to pursue.
As successful as the Energy Star program has been, it is in need of some serious improvement. As we noted in the October 2008 issue of Consumer Reports, while the program saves energy, it has not kept up with the times.
We appreciate this Committee’s leadership in introducing S. 598, the Appliance Standards Improvement Act, and would like to focus on three main areas where this legislation can improve the Energy Star program, and offer suggestions to help strengthen them: keep test procedures relevant to a changing marketplace, provide rigor and better enforcement than current self-certification procedures, and tighten up qualifying standards.
For the complete comments, click here (PDF format)