Hoping to salvage strict water-saving rules for washing machines, the California Energy Commission said Friday that it had notified the agency that blocked the rules that it would be filing suit.
The commission also said it had asked a federal court to review the action by the U.S. Energy Department, in the latest legal skirmish stemming from California's push for more stringent regulations covering water and energy use, air emissions and other environmental threats.
In this case, California asked the Energy Department for permission to set more stringent rules on water efficiency for household clothes washers, contending that the state has unique water and energy challenges that make federal regulations insufficient.
Without a waiver from the federal agency, states are prohibited from imposing efficiency standards that conflict with federal requirements.
"It is undeniable that California faces special, urgent and important water and energy challenges," the state told the agency. "In this era of dangerous and precarious energy dependence and dwindling water supplies, such specialized state efficiency standards matter."
Energy Department officials rejected California's waiver request in late December, ruling that the state failed to establish that it had "unusual and compelling water interests" and that the proposed state rules probably would eliminate cheap and popular top-loading washers from the California market.
The department denied California's request to reconsider the decision in late February, said Jonathan Blees, assistant chief counsel for the Energy Commission.
Blees said the state would argue in court that the federal government failed to consider information submitted by the state and mischaracterized the effective dates of the California regulations. He disputed the notion that top-loading washers wouldn't be able to comply with California's rules.
"An agency ignoring evidence in the record that's counter to its decision ... is simply illegal," Blees said. "You're not allowed to do that when you make a decision."
Under federal law, an intent-to-sue notice must be sent to the agency 60 days before the state can sue in federal court.
Attempts to reach an Energy Department spokeswoman for comment were unsuccessful.
A 2002 state law ordered the Energy Commission to set rules for washing machines that would substantially cut water usage. The rules were set to kick in next year and required household washers to use no more than 8.5 gallons per cubic foot of laundry, a nearly 50% reduction in water use compared with models on the market in 2004, the commission said. The limit was to be lowered further in 2010.
The state hoped that the rules would help cut water use. But it also was eyeing the amount of energy that could be saved if less wastewater from washers had to be pumped to and processed at sewage treatment plants. There also would be less electricity and natural gas expended heating water for washing machines.
Appliance makers urged the Energy Department to reject the waiver request, arguing that the state "failed to show that a residential clothes washer water standard would significantly alleviate California's water or energy problems."
In addition, manufacturers said the standards would hurt the appliance industry and lower-income buyers by in effect prohibiting the sale of top-loading washers in California.
Blees said that the state's appeal of the waiver rejection was filed in the 9th District Court of Appeals in San Francisco and that the lawsuit would be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.