California regulators have now approved efficiency rules for washing machines designed to save billions of gallons of water a year, but the changes will need the federal government's blessing.
If the Energy Department issues a needed waiver, California will become the first state to have water-efficiency rules for washing machines, which consume about 20 percent of households' annual water use.
California, U.S. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger initially held back the rules, which were supposed to be adopted by Dec. 31 under legislation signed by the governor's predecessor, Gray Davis. But now that the administration has just signed off on the regulations, the state Energy Commission has adopted the rules.
California has 35 million residents and a perpetual water shortage. The rules on new washing machines would save an estimated 80 billion gallons annually by 2019—enough to supply the city of San Diego for a year, said Mary Ann Dickinson, representing a coalition of water agencies and environmental groups.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) opposes the regulations. Spokesman Charles Samuels told the commission that the regulations burden retailers and limit consumer choice, but the panel was unmoved.
"You are not accepting the fact, it seems to me, that we have a serious water problem here," Commissioner William Keese told Samuels.
Energy Commission reports say although the initial cost of the water-efficient machines may be higher, water savings will make up the difference within 6 years.
New standards would be in place by 2007, and tougher rules would begin in 2010.
It will take about 2 1/2 months to submit the waiver request to the
Energy Department, which will have a year to respond, said Valerie Hall, a commission director.
A waiver is needed because California's law goes beyond federal appliance efficiency statutes. (Associated Press)
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