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California continues to regulate carbon intensity of motor fuels

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the US Supreme Court has declined to review the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeal’s September 2013 ruling that upheld the constitutionality of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

The Ninth Circuit had overturned a finding by a lower court that the LCFS violated interstate commerce laws. The plaintiffs in the case contended that the California LCFS improperly discriminates against fuels produces outside of the state and violates the US Constitution’s commerce clause that prevents a state from regulating commerce outside its borders.

The California LCFS is a state regulation designed to reduce by 10% the average lifecycle carbon intensity of the motor gasoline and diesel transportation fuel pool, including all petroleum and nonpetroleum components, sold for consumption in California from 2012 to 2020. The lifecycle carbon intensity of a fuel is a measure of greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing and consuming the fuel.

The EIA explains that increased production and use of low carbon intensity fuels, such as renewable diesel and cellulosic ethanol, and petroleum fuels made from less carbon intensive crude oil is expected to reduce lifecycle carbon intensity. In addition, providers of alternatives to liquid transportation fuels, such as natural gas and electricity, may opt-in to the LCFS program if they meet program requirements.

The LCFS carbon intensity targets for gasoline and diesel become progressively stricter through 2020. For example, the 2014 target for gasoline can be met with a belnd of 90% CARBOB (which is a petroleum blendstock for gasoline that meets California specifications) and 10% sugarcane ethanol imported from Brazil. However, the 2020 target will require gasoline blends made from less carbon intensive components, such as cellulosic drop in biofuels or ethanol made in an extremely energy efficient production facility.

Due to the fact that the Supreme Court denied review of the Ninth Circuit ruling, the LCFS will remain in effect pending additional review by lower courts. In the meantime, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is proposing to readopt the LCFS in 2014 to implement administrative improvements to the original 2009 regulation.

CARB also expects the 2014 readoption to ‘provide a stronger signal for investments in and production of the cleanest fuels, offer additional flexibility, update critical technical information, and provide for improved efficiency and enforcement of the regulation”.

Adapted from a press release by Emma McAleavey.

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