Jonathan Wiener's Blog Posts

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.

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11 March 2013, 12:48 PM
Your dryer is burning holes in your pockets
The average dryer costs more than $1,500 to run over its lifetime.  (DOE)

Few household appliances use as much energy or get replaced as rarely as clothes dryers. And unlike with most other household appliances, you won’t learn this when you are shopping for a new model.

The typical dryer uses more energy than the typical refrigerator, clothes washer, or dishwasher. But unlike all three of those products, dryers do not have to display yellow-and-black Energy Guide labels disclosing their energy costs.

Earthjustice is pushing to change this. Last week, we filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission calling for labels on clothes dryers.

FTC does not require labels for dryers because it decided years ago that most models tended to use roughly the same amount of energy. But that is no longer the case. An electric dryer costs more than twice as much to run as a gas dryer, enough to quickly wipe out the difference in purchase price. Even just among electric dryers, features like an automatic shut-off that accurately senses when the clothes are dry can lead to meaningful efficiency differences. And that’s before we consider the “heat-pump” models headed to the U.S. market.

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07 March 2013, 9:01 AM
EnergyGuide and ENERGY STAR labels obscure impact of configurations and features
The addition of a through-the-door ice dispenser can make a big difference in a refrigerator's energy usage.

Would you give ENERGY STAR to a sport-utility vehicle? What about a sport-utility refrigerator?

As with fuel economy for cars, the most important factors affecting a refrigerator’s energy usage include size, design and features. Specifically, the location of the freezer section, the addition of an automatic icemaker, and the addition of a through-the-door ice dispenser can all make a big difference in a model’s energy usage. But the labeling programs designed to promote energy-efficient models instead hide these impacts.

Today’s Energy Guide labels for refrigerators compare energy use only among models that have the exact same configuration and features. ENERGY STAR works the same way, allowing products to carry the mark even if they have the least efficient combination of configurations and features.

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08 February 2013, 3:47 PM
But Navy claims it might not be needed
North Atlantic right whale (#1612) with calf. (NOAA)

Would you build a $127 million training facility without first deciding whether to use it? That’s what the U.S. Navy claims it is doing in the waters off Jacksonville, Florida.

The Navy is pushing ahead with plans to build a massive submarine warfare training facility, consisting of 500 square miles of cables, nodes, buoys and other instruments, next to the only known nursery for the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and on top of habitat for sea turtles and other endangered species.

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04 January 2013, 10:53 AM
Online shoppers should more easily find energy efficiency information

If you are one of the millions of American consumers who shop or browse online for major appliances and would like to know the environmental impact your new purchase will have, we’ve got some good news. The Federal Trade Commission has finally updated its newly named Energy Labeling Rule to make it easier for you to compare models and to know the energy consumption (and operating cost) of new products.

Under the old rule, consumers had to fish around in unlikely places and hope to get lucky looking for this information. Now retailers will display it right next to the product photo and purchase price (like in the example at left), and manufacturers will also make it available on their own websites.

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03 December 2012, 2:21 PM
DOE brings hammer down on Chinese manufacturer
The Kenmore chest freezer model 19502 is among the products in violation.

The Department of Energy on Thursday levied the biggest penalty in the 37-year history of the appliance energy efficiency standards program. It fined China-based Midea Corp. $4.5 million because of hundreds of thousands of inefficient compact freezers the company made.

Most of the violations are for products sold under Sears’ Kenmore brand, including chest freezers with model numbers 19502 and 19702. Testing by the Department revealed that those two models use 28 and 55 percent more energy, respectively, than the federal standards for their designs. Compliant compact refrigerators and freezers already use more energy per cubic foot than their full-grown relatives, and their lifetime energy costs often exceed the purchase price of the product.

In this case, consumers could buy a Midea-made freezer for less than $160, and wind up paying around a third of that each year just to leave it plugged in.

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13 November 2012, 10:12 AM
Outgoing budget chief sings praises of efficiency standards OMB mothballed
"Regulatory Czar" Cass Sunstein. Half-a-dozen efficiency standards are still stuck at OMB.  (White House)

Either he has finally seen the light, or he just has a lot of nerve.

In a Sunday New York Times editorial about the impact of Hurricane Sandy and steps the U.S. should take to address climate change, former White House “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein argues, quite rightly, that cost-benefit analysis frequently justifies aggressive steps to combat climate change and other environmental harms.

He will get no argument on that here. But the examples he chose to illustrate his point—fuel efficiency standards for cars and appliances—ought to raise a few eyebrows.

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24 August 2012, 8:34 AM
Earthjustice urges customs to act on noncompliant imports

In June of 1976, the country had not yet marked its bicentennial. Gerald Ford was still president, Wings’ “Silly Love Songs” was topping the charts, and the customs service had not yet been transferred to the Department of Homeland Security. Point is: June 1976 was a really long time ago. 

And yet, one thing that had happened is that customs had already blown a deadline imposed by Congress to pass rules ensuring that imported products comply with energy efficiency standards and labeling requirements.
In the intervening years, as manufacturing moved overseas and the standards and labeling programs grew to cover more types of products, evidence mounted that some foreign companies are shipping products that lack required labels and waste more energy than they’re legally allowed to. This undercuts domestic companies that play by the rules and results in higher energy bills for U.S. business and consumers, and more air pollution for everyone. While nobody knows the full extent of the problem, it affects products ranging from light bulbs to window-mounted air conditioner units to the motors in farm equipment.

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01 August 2012, 6:27 AM
Study after study finds labels are missing from products in retail stores
EnergyGuide labels were hidden, out-of-date, falling (or fallen) off, or otherwise noncompliant. (Andy Melton)

When the Government Accountability Office studied energy efficiency labeling in 2007, it found a surprising number of products on display in appliance stores were missing required labels. A year later, the Federal Trade Commission conducted a similar study. It likewise found that significant numbers of products were missing labels. In both cases, labels for many products on display were hard to find, difficult to read, or detached from the product.

To find out whether recent changes to the labeling rules had improved things, we conducted our own investigation over the last year, and the results were not encouraging. Nearly a quarter of the 3,000 or so products we saw were missing labels entirely. Another third of products had labels that were hidden, out-of-date, falling (or fallen) off, or otherwise noncompliant. We also found products that claimed to be Energy Star certified even though they no longer met the criteria to make such a claim.

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12 July 2012, 6:30 AM
In game of hide-and-seek online, consumers are winning

When the Federal Trade Commission looked into energy efficiency labeling online, it found that retailer after retailer was failing to provide consumers with required information about appliance operating costs and energy usage. Even after the agency levied stiff fines against some retailers, many if not most retailers continued to ignore their consumers’ need for this information.

Then we got involved.

I’ve described looking for energy efficiency information online as a game of hide-and-seek. But that information is getting increasingly easier to find. Over the last year, Earthjustice has succeeded in getting dozens of online appliance retailers—including many of the country’s largest—to fix the problems with their online listings and disclose information required by law.

To do this, we’ve documented, in excruciating detail, more than 6,000 instances where online listings were missing this information. We’ve then taken that documentation directly to the companies, sending informal letters calling on them to fix the problems within 60 days.

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15 November 2011, 8:46 PM
Earthjustice again calls on FTC to bring enforcement action against online retailers
What a listing for a freezer on Newegg's website should also tell you, but doesn’t, is that the freezer uses so much energy that it will cost you around $90 each year just to run.

Back in July, I wrote about the lengths to which shoppers sometimes have to go in order to find legally required energy efficiency information about appliances for sale online. In response, more than 10,000 of you wrote in supporting our petition telling the Federal Trade Commission to require online retailers to display that information front and center in their product listings.

Unfortunately, some retailers still have not got the message that this information is important to consumers. While some retailers continue to bury energy efficiency information in hard-to-find places on their websites, others don't provide it at all.

Take, for example, Newegg. The 12th largest online retailer in the country according to Internet Retailer, it lists this Haier freezer for $679. The listing says the freezer “meets your food storage needs, whether your goal is to save money buying grocery items in bulk, or you're looking to preserve in-season fruits, vegetables, or meat.”

What the listing should also tell you, but doesn’t, is that the freezer uses so much energy that it will cost you around $90 each year just to run. No model in its class has been less efficient than that since at least 2007. That additional cost of 13 percent each year should be disclosed on Newegg’s website, but it isn’t. And it's not as if Newegg can't find this information: Haier posts a copy of the model’s Energy Guide label (which understates most products' energy costs by almost 10 percent) on its website, and other retailers post that label clearly when they list the model.