Consumers buying electric appliances have gotten used to looking for the Energy Star label, to be assured that the appliance makes efficient use of energy. Such concerns have only increased in the midst of the recession.

But what does the designation actually mean, and who enforces its standards?

Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), who have set standards for energy usage. Products that meet those standards are allowed to display the Energy Star label.

Computers and monitors were the first labeled products when the program was introduced in 1992. Through 1995, EPA expanded the label to additional office equipment products and residential heating and cooling equipment. It now even includes homes.

Last month DOE reached a settlement with appliance manufacturer LG, which it said was displaying the Energy Star label on refrigerators that did not meet Energy Star requirements. Those standards for refrigerator-freezers require all qualified refrigerator-freezers to use at least 20 percent less energy than the Federal government energy consumption standard.

DOE said LG's models LFX25950, LFX25960, LFX25971, LFX23961, LFX21960, LFX21971, LFX21980, LFX25980, LMX21981, LMX25981 as well as comparable Kenmore-brand "TRIO" models designed and manufactured by LG, displayed the Energy Star Label but did not meet the standard.

Under the settlement, LG voluntarily suspended these products from the Energy Star program and will offer consumers a free in-home modification of the affected refrigerator models to make them more energy efficient. Consumers will also 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.

Consumers who purchased the affected models should contact LG for more information at 1-888-848-1266 or through their website.

Where did LG go astray? DOE said it misinterpreted the government's test procedure.

The procedure, which has been used for decades and is based on a well-recognized and industry-wide adopted procedure, requires, among other things, that the ice maker be disabled but that all temperature controllable compartments, including ice storage bins, be set at their coldest temperature. LG's testing did not account for this latter condition but the company agreed to make changes to its testing to account for this aspect of the procedure to all models.

Energy usage measurements serve as the basis for information provided to consumers through the federal government's Energy Guide label affixed to these and other appliances as well as for determining qualification for the DOE Energy Star criteria. The Energy Guide labels are administered by the Federal Trade Commission.