The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy Star program is good for the climate and the economy. Trump wants to kill it anyway.


A new White House proposal would slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 24 percent and eliminate 38 of its programs. One of the programs on the kill list is the Energy Star program, an initiative that experts say is as much about saving money as it is about saving the climate. Should it be eliminated, they argue, both consumers and businesses could suffer.

“We need to get it off any target list it may be on, and right away,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, in an interview with The Washington Post.  

The program, which was created in 1992, sets an international standard for energy-efficient products, including heating and cooling systems, appliances, and electronics. Homes and other buildings may also receive Energy Star certification by meeting certain standards for energy efficiency.

Since its inception, the Energy Star program says, it has saved consumers an estimated $430 billion on utility bills and avoided 2.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. EPA spokeswoman Julia Valentine declined to provide Energy Star’s current budget, noting that the agency is “not commenting” at the moment, but in previous years it’s reportedly hovered around $50 million. 

Participation is voluntary, but Callahan points out that there’s a benefit to businesses as well as consumers. The program has about 16,000 partners, which include manufacturers and retailers as well as schools and other institutions, builders, and real estate companies.

“The Energy Star-labeled products tend to be on the higher end, where [manufacturers] can get a premium price for the product,” Callahan said. “There’s a great benefit, and they see it as a differentiator in the marketplace.”

Energy Star products do stand out in the market. Research suggests that they have about 85 percent brand recognition among consumers — which raises the question:  If the program is so popular and saves so much money, why is it on the hit list?    

It’s true that energy efficiency is, at its heart, largely an environmental issue. Cutting down on energy use reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s a primary strategy for fighting climate change. That’s not a priority for President Trump, who in the past has characterized federal climate programs as “wasteful” and called for funding cuts.

But as far as the Energy Star program goes, climate action is more of a useful side effect than the major purpose. Because the program is voluntary, it’s not forcing anyone to participate — and those who do join in see demonstrable financial benefits.

In short, the program just makes good business and economic sense — a point that typically resounds with Trump and his administration.  

“Whether or not you care about greenhouse gas emissions, this is a great program that people love,” said Lowell Ungar, senior policy adviser with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. If the program were to be eliminated, he added, “consumers wouldn’t know which products were efficient, and we would be wasting more energy. Consumers would be spending more money, and it would hurt the economy.”  

Why the administration sees fit to remove it, then, remains unclear. But some say the budget proposal may not get much further, anyway. Some lawmakers have suggested that the plan is likely to face resistance in Congress, even among Republicans. And the treatment of the Energy Star program may spur criticism from the private sector as well.

“My hope is that the 16,000 partners really step up and stand firm and say it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish, to put it as politely as possible, to take money from this program or to try to suspend it when it’s clearly something that is doing so much good across so many fronts,” Callahan said. “I can’t imagine honestly that the manufacturers won’t fight very, very hard to keep this program in place.”