Federal court gives green light to low-carbon fuel standard rules

The crafting of regulations critical to California’s landmark law curbing climate-changing carbon gas emissions will go forward temporarily while a federal appeals court decides whether they violate the commerce clause of the U.S. constitution.

The complex 2009 rule known as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which is intended to cut pollution by 10 percent over the next eight years from the production and use of transportation fuels, had been blocked in December by the U.S. District Court in Fresno.

In its decision, the lower court sided with petroleum, ethanol and trucker interests, among others, who contended the LCFS rule illegally restricted interstate commerce and was in conflict with a 2007 federal energy law that specifically exempted corn ethanol producers from greenhouse gas reporting requirements. The ruling came from U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill.

But this week, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco removed the lower court’s injunction, which allows the state’s air pollution fighters at California’s Air Resources Board to continue crafting the new regulations while the dispute is resolved on its merits in the courts.

There was no indication when the final judicial decision would be made, although it appears that the issue, in the end, will wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The procedural ruling captured little interest in the Capitol – or among the public, for that matter – but it was viewed with intense interest by environmentalists in the state and across the nation, who see the LCFS as crucial to California’s attempt to cut greenhouse gases. For years, the political fight over LCFS was as intense as any environment-linked clash in the Capitol, pitting well-heeled special interests against environmentalists and, ultimately, state air pollution fighters.

The legal fight to preserve the LCFS was launched by the Environmental Defense Fund and several environmental groups, who argued that the rule was a “scientifically credible standard that was carefully designed to cut climate change pollution, protect and improve public health and drive innovation that delivers economic benefits.”

“California has some of the worst air quality in the country. In addition to fighting climate change, the LCFS cuts pollution that poisons our air and water and results in respiratory ailments and diseases that cost us tens of billions of dollars a year in health care costs. By facilitating newer, less polluting transportation fuels, the LCFS can help California finally achieve attainment of federal health standards for air quality,” the Environmental Defense Fund’s climate change specialist Tim O‘Connor noted in a blog posting.

But Michael Whatley of the Consumer Energy Alliance said he was “disappointed that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has chosen to allow, pending resolution of the appeal, a costly and  destructive program to continue while placing countless American jobs and consumers at risk.”

“At the end of the day,” he added, the “LCFS will fail to reduce CO2 emissions, double gas prices, place thousands of jobs at risk, and will cost our economy billions of dollars.”

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