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The New Scientist has reported that California has filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Energy for failing to allow the state to make its domestic washing machines more water-efficient.

In 2004, California approved rules imposing water efficiency standards for domestic washing machines that exceed federal standards. The proposed new standard required washing machines sold after 2007 to use no more than 8.5 gallons of water per cubic foot of washing machine capacity. And by 2010, this figure would have to be reduced by a further 30%.

The new rules were expected to save some 303 billion litres of water per year by 2019, but they could only come into effect if they were approved by the federal Department of Energy. However, the DOE refused to grant California the waiver from less severe federal standards in 2004.

"For a state that faces perpetual water issues, every drop counts," said Jackalyne Pfannenstiel who chairs the California Energy Commission. "Less water use in California clothes washers will eventually save enough to supply a city the size of San Diego every year."

Julie Ruggiero for the DOE said that California did not meet requirements for the granting of a waiver. A waiver request has to be "economically feasible and technologically justified," she says. Too high, too fast

"We are committed to increasing efficiency on a variety of fronts, but you have to meet the law in order to change the law," said Ruggiero. "In California, if we were to raise the standard that high, that quickly, it could have a negative impact on the producer and the consumer."

The more efficient washing machines will cost about $130 more and, according to the energy commission, savings on water and energy should save the average consumer about $242. The suit also claims the state would save electricity and natural gas, and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"California has had to sue the DOE five times over the last several years to get them on board with energy efficiency. The courts have sided with California five times," said Claudia Chandler, spokesperson for the California Energy Commission. "So, we'll see them in court."

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