California Issues Needed Computer Energy Efficiency Rules
Last month the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved the nation’s first-ever energy efficiency standards for computers and monitors. Leading national and California consumer groups are applauding the CEC, saying the new standards are expected to save Californians more than $370 million per years.
“California’s steady leadership on energy efficiency is crucial, especially at this moment of political change on the national level,” said CFA Director of Research Mark Cooper in a press statement. “Energy efficiency is central to U.S. global economic leadership. It is good for consumers, good for the economy and good for the environment.”
The standard addresses a growing energy burden for households, businesses and schools by improving the energy efficiency of computers and monitors that are continuously plugged in and pull power from the grid whether they’re being used or not. “Research from the University of California suggests desktop computers and monitors are powered up an average of 77 percent of the day, but sit idle 61 percent of that time,” the groups said. “By reducing the amount of power consumed while not in use, the new standards will cut the average machine’s energy consumption in half.”
“We are pleased the CEC has issued this long-awaited this final rule – it took a lot of work by the agency, industry and advocates to arrive at standards acceptable to all. We look to the Commission to monitor the market to ensure that the greatest savings for consumers are realized,” said CFA’s Special Projects Director Mel Hall-Crawford.
CPSC Proposes Safety Standard for Baby Changing Products
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has proposed new safety standards for baby changing products. The proposed rule is based on the voluntary standard for these products, but with modified requirements for structural integrity, restraint system integrity, and warnings on labels and in instructional literature.
CFA, Kids in Danger and Consumers Union submitted a comment letter last month in support of the proposed rule. In addition to the warning label modifications suggested by CPSC, the groups advocated the inclusion of pictograms to more fully convey the hazards addressed in the warnings.
“Our organizations encourage the CPSC to add pictograms to the warnings to more effectively convey the hazard and avoid language barriers that may minimize comprehension of these warning labels,” the groups wrote. “Using the internationally recognized symbol of a red circle with a line through it, the CPSC could draft specific pictograms showing the hazardous conditions that have led to deaths and injuries such as an unattended child, sleeping child or other hazards.”
According to the CPSC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 182 incidents involving changing units, including five fatalities and 30 injuries, were reported between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2015. Additionally, CPSC staff identified 1,305 injuries reported in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (“NEISS”) records retrieved for changing unit incidents from January 1, 2005 to December 31, 2014.
“Many parents with infants and toddlers rely on baby changing product to be a safe place to change their children,” said CFA Legislative Director Rachel Weintraub. “This proposed rule with the strengthening changes our groups suggested will go far in improving the safety of these products.”
New and Continued Problems Await Many Taxpayers in 2017
CFA and the National Consumer Law Center are urging taxpayers to start preparing for tax-time, especially those who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). In a press release issued last month, the groups highlighted new and old delays and risks taxpayers may face, including refund delays for millions of vulnerable taxpayers, fraud and errors from unregulated preparers, and a confusing landscape of financial products.
Refund Delays: A new law passed by Congress, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, requires the IRS to delay refunds to taxpayers claiming the EITC or ACTC until at least February 15, 2017. The PATH Act mandated the tax refund delay in order to give the IRS more time to help detect and prevent fraud involving the EITC and ACTC. The IRS has cautioned that, while it will begin to release EITC/ACTC refunds starting February 15, these refunds likely won’t arrive in bank accounts or prepaid cards until the week of February 27 due to “several factors, including banking and financial systems needing time to process deposits.” The IRS must delay the entire refund – even the portion not associated with the EITC and ACTC – until that date.
“The tax refund delay will likely cause problems for many taxpayers who receive the EITC or ACTC,” said CFA Senior Policy Analyst Michael Best. “These taxpayers are low-income working taxpayers, the vast majority of whom have children. They often depend on receiving their refunds early in the tax season to help pay for groceries, holiday bills, overdue utility debt, or other pressing expenses.”
RAL Abuses: Because of the PATH Act tax refund delay, “no fee” RALs may prove attractive to many consumers, the groups said. “These are loans that are secured by the taxpayer’s refund, but the lender does not charge the taxpayer a fee or finance charge. Instead, some lenders charge the preparer a fee. Many lenders and preparers call these products an ‘advance,’ but they are actually a loan,” the groups warned.
Advocates recommend that taxpayers avoid no fee RALs if possible. One risk is that some unscrupulous tax preparers might charge more in their tax preparation fees to “no fee” RAL borrowers. Also, last tax season lenders appeared to impose a price for “no fee” RALs by charging a higher price for a refund anticipation check (RAC) if the preparer was offering these loans.
Incompetent Preparers: Continued lack of minimum standards for paid tax preparers is an on-going problem for taxpayers, the groups warned. In all but four states (CA, MD, NY and OR), paid tax preparers are not required to meet any minimum educational, competency, or training standards. “Minimum competency and training standards need to be adopted in the 46 states that don’t have them,” said CFA’s Senior Policy Advocate Michael Best. “Taxpayers deserve no less.”
The press release suggests resources people can use to select a tax preparer and protect against abusive practices.
Four Children Killed by Window Covering Cords in Last Six Weeks
In the wake of four child strangling deaths over a 29-day period from cords on window coverings, CFA, Parents for Window Blind Safety, Kids In Danger, Consumers Union, U.S. PIRG and Independent Safety Consulting issued a press statement late last month urging parents to make sure that the window coverings in their homes are cordless.
Fatality data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reveals that 12 children on average have strangled to death each year since 1983 when they became caught in loops formed from the cords on window coverings. The rate of injuries and deaths has not been significantly reduced during that time, despite six industry attempts at revising their voluntary standards. The seventh revision of the voluntary standard is currently underway and safety advocates are hopeful that it will be a step in the right direction.
“This holiday season and every day, we urge families to make sure that cords on window coverings are not accessible to children,” stated CFA’s Legislative Director Rachel Weintraub. “When purchasing new window coverings, we urge parents to buy cordless products.”
The CPSC has long recognized window covering cords as a hidden strangulation and asphyxiation hazard to children and continues to identify it on its website as one of the “top five hidden hazards in the home.” The most vulnerable children are infants through eight years of age.