Ninth Circuit Issues Opinion in CA Low Carbon Fuel Standard Case

Posted September 27, 2013

In Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Corey, et al., No. 12-15135 (9th Cir. Sept. 18, 2013), a three judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS).  The Court reversed a District Court ruling which held that California’s LCFS violated the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The opinion is available here

The Court stated: “For dormant Commerce Clause purposes, economic protectionism, or discrimination, “simply means different treatment of in-state and out-of-state economic interests that benefits the former and burdens the latter… Absent discrimination, we will uphold the law ‘unless the burden imposed on [interstate] commerce is clearly excessive in relation to the putative local benefits.’”  Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc. 397 U.S. at 137 (1970). 

The Court remanded the case for trial to consider whether the regulations “placed an undue burden on interstate commerce” applying the Pike balancing test.

In holding that California’s LCFS mandate did not violate the U.S. Constitution, the Ninth Circuit also removed an injunction that had stopped the implementation of the law, according to an ABC News article available here.  The LCFS is a “key piece” of California’s “landmark global warming law,” AB 32, and aims to cut the state’s dependence on petroleum by 20 percent by 2020. 

The LCFS “calculates the life cycle of fuels from their extraction – or cultivation, in the case of biofuels such as corn based ethanol – to their combustion,” according to an LA Times article available here.

This decision allows the California Air Resources Board to begin implementing the law.  Air Resources Board spokesman Dave Clergern said the decision was “a very good step for Californians and the fight against climate change.”

Tim O’Connor of the Environmental Defense Fund said, “The court clearly upheld a groundbreaking policy that will protect consumers and the environment by diversifying our fuel mix and providing more choices for a clean energy future.”

Charles T. Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, said the law’s “broad reach and intended scope means that implementing the [fuel standards] will have adverse consequences throughout the nation’s fuel refining facilities and supply chain far beyond California’s boarders.”

For more information on Renewable Energy and Climate Change, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here and here.