The U.S. Supreme Court today denied several petitions seeking review of the Ninth Circuit's decision upholding California's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard ("LCFS") against claims that the LCFS violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. While today's decision makes the Ninth Circuit's decision final, the underlying issue -- how far individual states can go to regulate greenhouse gases and promote renewable energy without violating the Commerce Clause -- will remain the subject of intense litigation. For example, recent lower-court decisions from Colorado and Minnesota, reaching apparently opposite conclusions on the constitutionality of state renewable portfolio requirements, suggest that the Supreme Court may ultimately have to step into the fray.
As we've previously reported here and here, California's LCFS requires petroleum distributors in the state to reduce the carbon intensity of motor fuels they sell by blending them with biofuels or other lower-carbon alternatives. The LCFS contains a complex mechanism which uses a life-cycle analysis to assign carbon intensity scores to different biofuels production processes, providing a significant economic advantage to fuels with lower carbon intensity scores. This mechanism was challenged by a coalition of out-of-state alcohol fuels producers and trade groups, who argued that California's mechanism discriminates against them on its face by assigning higher carbon intensity scores to out-of-state producers than in-state producers. California rebutted these claims by asserting that its life-cycle analysis model is location-neutral and reflects the reality that production of alcohol fuels in some areas has a greater carbon footprint than fuels produced within California. Alcohol fuels produced in the Midwest, for example, generally have a higher carbon footprint than fuels produced within California because Midwest biofuels are produced using electricity from a grid that relies more heavily on coal-fired plants and because of the lengthy transportation routes required to deliver Midwest fuels into California add to the out-of-state fuel's carbon intensity.