In his first budget proposal, President Donald Trump suggested major cuts for many federal environmental programs. Among the casualties of the “America First” budget would be the Energy Star Program, a popular and successful energy efficiency initiative. Energy Star costs little and saves billions. Eliminating it would be a huge mistake.
The Energy Star Program is among the most popular and most successful clean energy programs in the country. Since it was created in 1992, Energy Star has helped Americans save $430 billion on their energy bills. The program uses simple, voluntary standards. It establishes an efficient baseline for products like appliances and electronics and then recommends that companies sell products that comply with those standards. Companies that choose to meet Energy Star standards can label their products with Energy Star certification. While Energy Star products can cost more than their inefficient competitors, they still stand out, in part because the program has 85 percent brand recognition from consumers. Efficient air conditioners or televisions can sell better, even at a higher price, because they have an Energy Star sticker. If a company objects to the standards, it can simply ignore them.
Because the program is voluntary, it has few detractors. Clean energy advocates like the program because it promotes efficiency. Manufacturers like the program because it helps them sell their goods. The program has wide appeal in Washington too with supporters among both Democrats and Republicans. This wide popularity makes it both weird and surprising to write a defense for Energy Star. But with thirty-one percent of EPA funding on Trump’s chopping block, an unexpected defense of Energy Star has suddenly become necessary. Here are three simple reasons why we should save the Energy Star Program:
Energy Star helps consumers save money. Since being introduced in 1992, Energy Star has helped Americans save $430 billion on their energy bills. Savings related to Energy Star products totaled $34 billion in 2015 alone.
Energy Star has also helped save energy and mitigate climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the program has helped the United States avoid emitting almost 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere during its 25 years. According to the EPA, this avoided carbon provides a societal benefit worth more than $10 billion every year. Energy Star appliances save money and emit less carbon, exactly as the program intends.
The budget for the Energy Star program was about $53 million in 2014. That may seem like an expensive program, but not compared to tens of billions of dollars it helped save. And not compared to the several billion dollars in the EPA’s budget. At the scale of government spending, which now totals in the trillions of dollars, $53 million for the successful Energy Star program is a drop in the bucket.
Unsurprisingly, environmental groups and clean energy advocates have come to the defense of the Energy Star program. Less obviously, America’s business community has also praised the program. Late last month, more than 1,000 companies wrote a letter to elected officials on behalf of the program. The companies included leading manufacturers of electronics and heating and cooling systems, the companies most affected by Energy Star. Because it is so successful, support for the Energy Star program is widespread.
Each of those benefits alone should encourage politicians to save the Energy Star program. But if it is so great, why does the Trump administration want to kill it?
President Trump’s proposed budget is explicitly designed to eliminate climate-related funding. It discontinues climate change programs that Trump says are “unduly burdening the American economy.” Targeting Energy Star is part of a larger effort to shrink the EPA as well as other government agencies that address or study our warming planet. Because the Energy Star program lowers greenhouse gas emissions, Trump wants it defunded no matter how much money it saves.
A new report from CNN suggests a less favorable interpretation of Trump’s actions. The report argues that eliminating Energy Star will aid Trump properties. In addition to rating appliances and other electronics, Energy Star also rates buildings. Trump buildings do not rate well. Of the 15 Trump buildings rated by Energy Star, 11 rated below average. One Trump property in Manhattan received the lowest possible score. There is no evidence to suggest that the president is seeking personal gain by killing Energy Star, but his buildings would certainly benefit and Trump has previously displayed little concern for perceived conflicts of interest.
Whatever Trump’s rationale, eliminating the Energy Star program would be a mistake.