U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O'Neill, hearing the case in a Fresno courtroom, blocked California’s low-carbon fuel rules.
O’Neill’s legal opinion – that the rules violated the commerce provisions of the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against crude oil-based fuels and favoring biofuel produced in-state – has been challenged by non other than California Air Resources Board (CARB).
CARB's spokesman Dave Clegern, points out that the rule does not mandate specific alternative fuels, or fuels by geographic location, but rather encourages the use of cleaner low-carbon fuels by regulating fuel providers within the state and by providing labeling which enables consumers to choose cleaner fuels.
The rule does this by assigning a carbon intensity score to various fuels, ranging from crude-oil derived gasoline to biomass ethanol, and based on the amount of carbon dioxide generated during the fuel’s life cycle.
This intensity is measured in grams of carbon per megajoule (g/MJ), with gasoline produced in California averaging 92, while low-sulfur California diesel scores a mere 71. Midwest corn ethanol, surprisingly, scores 114. The rule insures that, by 2020, all vehicle fuels will be 10 percent less carbon intensive than gasoline produced today.
These rules, based on – and extending the reach of – California’s 2006 global warming law, AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, have been fulminating since 2007.
Defined in 2009, the “The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) became the first in the world. Taking effect in January of 2011, the rules shape a market-based approach to labeling fuels which has been copied by the EU, whose countries also aim to reduce life-cycle fuel emissions by up to 10 percent between 2011 and 2020.
The lawsuit on which Judge O’Neill ruled was filed in a federal court last year by a group of crude oil refiners that include the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association and the Consumer Energy Alliance, the latter a front group for the energy industry which opposes political initiatives to regulate carbon emissions.
On Dec. 16, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, another petroleum trade association, published the results of a study by her organization showing that it might be impossible for fuel providers to meet the LCFS standards post-2015.
The California ARB plans to ask for a stay of execution on O’Neill’s ruling, and appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court if necessary. Proponents of the low carbon fuel standards suggest that the measure preventing implementation of the rule will fail, as have others which attacked clean air rules and policies in the courts.
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