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Water-efficiency standards back on state's regulatory plate

Court gives OK for re-consideration of program that would affect home washing machines

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has given the California Energy Commission another chance to establish a statewide rule requiring water-saving clothes-washing machines.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision in which the U.S. Department of Energy in 2006 refused to allow California to establish its own water efficiency standards for residential clothes washers.

Circuit Judge William Canby wrote, "California is experiencing a severe water crisis, and that crisis is worsening."

Canby and two other judges on a three-judge panel agreed that the state had offered good reasons for establishing water efficiency standards.

In 2002, the state Legislature ordered the energy commission to come up with standards for residential clothes-washing machines.

The commission did so and said its proposed standards would save the state as much water annually as the city of San Diego uses in one year.

But under federal law, the U.S. Energy Department must give a state a waiver to set its own standards. The department refused, saying California hadn't shown "unusual and compelling" water interests as required for a waiver under the U.S. Energy Policy and Conservation Act.

The appeals court said, however, that the department hadn't adequately considered the data and analysis provided by California to support its claim of compelling circumstances.

But the court stopped short of ordering the California regulations into effect. Instead, it sent the case back to the Department of Energy for further consideration.

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