After criticism that its Energy Star labeling program has become lax, the U.S. Department of Energy appears to be getting tougher with appliance manufacturers and their energy efficiency claims. Its latest target? Appliance giant LG Electronics USA.

On Dec. 7, the Department of Energy announced that effective January 2, 2010, certain LG French-door refrigerators will be banned from using the Energy Star label.

“The Energy Star label is a critical tool for consumers looking to save energy and money with their appliances,” DOE General Counsel Scott Blake Harris said in a statement.  “We have found that these refrigerator-freezer models do not deliver the energy and cost savings promised under the Energy Star program, so we are taking the necessary steps to protect the American public.”

LG Electronics, naturally, disagreed with the decision. The company responded to the government just two days later, asking a federal court on Dec. 9 to grant a preliminary injunction barring the agency from taking any short-term actions against the company regarding the Energy Star rating of certain refrigerator models.

LG Electronics “been a proud supporter and a sponsor of the Energy Star program for many years,” said John I. Taylor, the company’s vice president of public affairs and communications. “The program is important to consumers, and the label is meaningful to the public. There is no dispute over that.”

But Taylor said that the French-door refrigerators have a “unique design” and that “LG has an agreement in place to help the industry on how testing should be done.”

The company is asking the court “to stop the DOE from unilateral measures against the company--inappropriately forcing LG to remove Energy Star labels from certain of its refrigerator-freezer models by Jan. 2, 2010” and says DOE “should pursue an industry-wide approach to new testing standards within the process established in law.”

The legal filing and DOE announcement are just the latest actions in a dispute that goes back for more than a year. At issue in the dustup are agency concerns regarding the energy usage measurements that LG reports on its French-door refrigerators with ice and water service through the door.

For refrigerator-freezers to qualify for Energy Star labeling, they must use at least 20% less energy than the federal energy consumption standard. According to the government, though, “multiple independent labs have confirmed that when certain LG French-door refrigerator-freezers are tested using existing DOE test procedures, they do not qualify for the Energy Star Program.”

LG and the Department of Energy did arrive at an amicable agreement last year that was supposed to settle the dispute. “DOE believes that the actions LG plans to take will benefit consumers and help ensure that the Nation's energy conservation goals are met,” John Mizroch, the acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said at the time, in a Nov. 14, 2008, letter. “It is critical that we work together with our industry partners to maintain the integrity of the Energy Star brand to make sure that consumers are able to make the most efficient purchasing decision--we appreciate LG’s cooperation in settling this issue.”

That agreement affected only some LG products (list below) as well as comparable Kenmore-brand TRIO models (with ice and water in the door) designed and manufactured by LG. 

As part of the accord, LG had agreed to suspend the products from the Energy Star program. In addition, consumers would be offered a free in-home modification of the affected models to make them more energy efficient and receive a payment covering the energy cost difference between the new measured energy usage of the product and the amount stated on the original Energy Guide label.

LG also agreed to issue payments to consumers for future incremental energy usage for the expected useful life of the refrigerator, which is as long as 14 years. Moreover, all models that had not been sold were to be modified prior to sale to meet the obligations of the agreement.

In a related note, the Department of Energy also announced Dec. 9 that manufacturers of certain residential products have a 30-day window ending January 8, 2010 to submit accurate certification reports and compliance statements as part of enhanced enforcement of DOE’s energy efficiency appliance standards program

“Certification reports provide the Department with important information that allow us to verify if a manufacturer is complying with the energy efficiency standards that deliver significant energy and cost savings to the American public,” DOE's counsel Harris said. “This 30-day period will provide all manufacturers the same opportunity to submit correct data to DOE before we begin broader enforcement actions.”

Nigel Maynard is senior editor for products at BUILDER magazine.

LG Models Covered by DOE Agreement

  • LFX25950

  • LFX25960

  • LFX25971

  • LFX23961

  • LFX21960

  • LFX21971

  • LFX21980

  • LFX25980

  • LMX21981

  • LMX25981

  • Comparable Kenmore-brand TRIO models (with ice and water in the door) that are designed and manufactured by LG Electronics.