Lawmakers Say EPA's 'Energy Star' Program Lacks Transparency

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) listens as members speak during a markup meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee March 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee met to vote on the nomination of Sarah Jewell for the position of Secretary of the Interior. (National Journal)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is raising concerns that the Environmental Protection Agency has not been transparent in drafting energy-efficiency standards under the Energy Star program.

In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Tuesday afternoon, a group of eight senators, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called on the agency to make the information used to draft specifications under the program publicly available. The senators also suggested that the agency has not always been willing to consider the viewpoints of individuals and organizations that stand to be impacted by the creation or revision of Energy Star standards.

"We expect that stakeholders will be given the opportunity to offer their input, that their views will be fairly considered, that EPA's decisions will be based on a fair and reasonable analysis of the record, and that this record will be made available to stakeholders and the public," the letter states.

The letter comes on the heels of a similar request made late last month by a group of 23 House members seeking increased transparency in the program.

Last week, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, including Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., sent a similar letter to McCarthy, this one questioning the Energy Star program's recent draft specifications for windows, doors, and skylights. EPA's final draft version of the proposal may increase the costs to consumers for home-improvement materials certified by Energy Star, the letter argued.

"We believe that a 'reasonable' payback period on customer investment must be ensured when the new standards are finalized, and we are concerned that EPA is not taking this issue seriously enough," the letter states.

The payback period refers to the amount of time it will take consumers to recoup the upfront cost of purchasing a product certified under the program through savings realized from energy efficiency.

"The agency is ignoring the real world implications of their new standards," the letter warns.

It also goes on to say that the process used to finalize the most recent draft proposal for windows, doors, and skylights was not conducted in a transparent manner, echoing concerns raised by senators who signed the letter sent Tuesday.

The Coalition for Home Energy Efficiency, made up of individuals, manufacturers, and retailers whose self-described aim is to "preserve and protect" the Energy Star program, facilitated the collection of signatures on both letters and is also collecting signatures on a petition that will be sent to the White House, both chambers of Congress, and EPA calling for an adjustment to the specification for windows, doors, and skylights.

EPA released a final draft for its latest specification for windows, doors, and skylights in July. The specification is expected to be finalized in mid-December and will take effect at the start of 2015. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.