Energy Star is best known for labels that tell you how much you’ll pay on your utility bill if you buy a new refrigerator or television. But it also has ratings for hotels, condominiums and office buildings.
Trump’s properties tend to receive low Energy Star ratings. The most recent scores from 2015 reveal that 11 of his 15 skyscrapers in New York, Chicago and San Francisco are less energy efficient than most comparable buildings. On a scale of 1 to 100 for energy efficiency, Manhattan’s old Mayfair Hotel, which Trump converted into condos, rated a 1.
But none of this could matter if the administration has its way. It has proposed cutting all funding to the Energy Star Program, run by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Energy Star’s impending fate exemplifies how the President’s actions can benefit his own businesses.
“You bet your life that it is (a conflict),” Norman Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, said of defunding the Energy Star program. He agrees with Energy Star’s contention that the ratings can affect the value of a property.
“We’ve seen no evidence that the President is trying to isolate himself from any appearances of conflict when it comes to his interests,” Ornstein said.
Neither the Trump Organization nor the White House responded to multiple requests for comment. But many US companies are protesting the cuts to Energy Star — more than 1,000 of them urged Congress this week to preserve the program.
The EPA created Energy Star in 1992 to save energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a voluntary program aimed at addressing climate change by educating consumers and property owners.
Trump famously tweeted once that climate change was invented by the Chinese to undercut American manufacturers. This is not true. More than 800 scientists who authored the most recent report of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reiterated the consensus for decades that human influence on global warming is “clear.”
Still, Trump’s EPA, led by Scott Pruitt, proposes doing away with most of the agency’s climate change initiatives, including targeting President Barack Obama’s major new regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions at power plants. One budget document suggests exploring ways to privatize Energy Star, without providing any details on how this could be done without funding.
The Energy Star program costs about $50 million a year, but the EPA estimates that it has saved Americans $362 billion in energy costs since 1992, including saving building owners $7.6 billion in 2014 alone.
Energy Star scores come from data building owners provide themselves. The aim is to offer advice on how to cut energy consumption. Energy Star doesn’t publicly release its scores, except for those of the most energy efficient buildings. Trump has had two buildings awarded the Energy Star label, both in New York: 40 Wall Street and 1290 Avenue of the Americas. The latter is 70% owned by Vornado Realty Trust.
Vornado boasts on its website being an Energy Star partner, a recognition awarded to companies with a strategic approach to energy management. Vornado declined to comment for this story.
But in recent years, New York and Chicago began requiring owners of buildings with more than 50,000 square feet to report data on energy usage, including Energy Star ratings. In San Francisco, all buildings with more than 10,000 square feet must report since 2010. That has allowed the public for the first time to see poor Energy Star ratings for buildings.
A score of 50 or more means the property ranks in the top half of its category for energy conservation. Most of Trump’s properties score below 50. Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, a luxurious glass tower completed in 2009, scored a 9. Trump Park Avenue, converted from a hotel to condominiums in 2002, earned a 7.
“In our experience, a single digit Energy Star score typically indicates either that the building is a real energy hog or that there are serious data quality issues with the submission,” said Jeffrey Perlman, president and founder of Bright Power Inc., which helps companies reduce their energy usage.
Besides environmental concerns, poor ratings are costly for property owners, Perlman said.
“Regardless of your political affinity I think that wasting energy and water in general it’s just not a good use of resources,” he said.
Spending money to save energy quickly pays for itself, said Adobe Systems Inc.’s sustainability strategist Vince Digneo. Adobe’s century-old red brick office in San Francisco earned an Energy Star score of 99 in 2015 as well as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certificate, the top distinction for green buildings.
On 200 sustainability projects, Adobe reports a 26% return on investment within 18 months, Digneo said.
“There’s some upfront costs,” Digneo said, “But considering the return on investment, I can’t think of a single executive who wouldn’t do it.”
The Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, a nonprofit that teaches how to reduce emissions, said in a statement to CNN, “To the extent you can reduce your consumption of fossil fuels by introducing a more energy efficient boiler, or installing more efficient lighting, you are reducing your operating costs and helping the environment at the same time, a win-win situation.”
Trump himself once touted his commitment to green energy.
“I strongly believe in clean energy, in conserving energy, all of that — more than anybody,” Trump says on a fact sheet for a heating and power generation system at Trump Tower in White Plains, New York.
In 2012, a property with which Trump licenses his brand name received nearly $1 million in energy subsidies from the state of New York for a residential property in Westchester County, The New York Times reported. In addition, the Trump Organization received $40,000 in incentive payments in 2011 for energy-saving projects at two condominium buildings, Trump Parc and Trump Parc East. In 2015, those Manhattan buildings earned Energy Star scores of 42 and 52.
Perlman said being energy efficient helps attract potential residents and investors.
“You see institutional investors asking for sustainability reporting from the funds they’re investing in,” he said.
Katie Kaluzny, associate director of the US Green Building Council, said she heard from the Trump Organization after it was revealed earlier this year that its Chicago hotel rated poorly for energy usage.
“I heard from the architect, the building engineer… All these people wanted to tell me that the building wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she said.
Recently, the hotel’s building engineer told her he is installing motion sensor lighting in some parts of the building to save energy.
“There’s definitely a ton of work to be done in places like that,” Kaluzny said, “But I’m a little concerned about this EPA tool being cut.”