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Eliminating Energy Star Program Would Harm Consumers, Trump Critics Say

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump's budget is proposing eliminating federal funding for a number of programs run by the Environmental Protection Agency, this includes Energy Star. You might know its blue label indicating energy efficiency for appliances and other products. Now, supporters of this 25-year-old program say it saves consumers billions. Here's Grace Hood from Colorado Public Radio.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: Construction workers in North Denver are on the site of a new housing development called Midtown. The company behind the project has a selling point designed to give it an edge. It's building Energy Star-rated homes.

STEVE EAGLEBURGER: What we're doing here is checking to make sure this attic is insulated.

HOOD: Steve Eagleburger is with an independent company called EnergyLogic and verifies the construction work. He's standing on a ladder peering into a ceiling hatch.

EAGLEBURGER: And this one is not insulated at all.

HOOD: Eagleburger makes notes on a tablet, then he's off to the next thing - a checklist of dozens of items like fans and seals on air ducts.

STEVE BYERS: The Energy Star brand has brand recognition on par with like Coke and Pepsi.

HOOD: Steve Byers, CEO of EnergyLogic, says this home won't get the Energy Star seal of approval until the builder fixes everything his company flags.

BYERS: This is a very successful program. You know, I don't know what more one could want out of a government program.

HOOD: With Energy Star, the government sets the standards for efficient products, not just for homes but everything from washers and dryers to light bulbs and computers. But if President Donald Trump has his way, the program would disappear.

LOWELL UNGAR: These cuts make no sense.

HOOD: Lowell Ungar is with the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. His group, along with 80 others, wrote to Congress to urge continued support of the program.

UNGAR: The bottom line is proposed cuts to Energy Star would harm American consumers. They would destroy jobs and make air pollution worse.

HOOD: The program is voluntary. But in 2014, the EPA estimates it helped American consumers and businesses save $34 billion. That's a big payoff for a program that costs just $50 million a year. Mike Gazzano works for Delta Products, which makes bathroom ventilation fans. He says it costs the company money to get certified for Energy Star, but it's a selling point.

MIKE GAZZANO: We do see that actually as a distinguishing factor kind of along the line of the engineering and the technology and seeing it as a premium product versus, say, an average or typical bath fan.

HOOD: The EPA reports more than 90 percent of households recognize the Energy Star blue label. Visit Best Buy in North Denver, and you can see it on washers, refrigerators and TVs. Ed Toombs is shopping for a big-screen TV. He's looking at size, picture and energy costs.

ED TOOMBS: If I saw one that was substantially lower than the other, that would factor into my decision.

HOOD: Energy Star does have critics. In 2010, workers at the Government Accountability Office posed as product developers and got the Energy Star label for fictitious products. That launched the third-party certification that exists now. Doug Johnson, with the trade group Consumer Technology Association, says that process can be time consuming when trying to get products to market.

DOUG JOHNSON: It's a part of the program that we think should be re-examined. In fact, we've been advocates for improving that part of the Energy Star program.

HOOD: Johnson also notes there were other successful federal programs like EnergyGuide that measure efficiency, but he doesn't think the whole Energy Star program should go away. Ultimately, it'll be up to Congress to decide whether shoppers continue to see the blue sticker on goods in the showroom. For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Denver, Colo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.