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California's low-carbon fuel regulations clear small hurdle

April 23, 2012 |  7:08 pm

California’s ability to carry out low-carbon fuel regulations is back on track after a ruling by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Fresno.

The court overturned an injunction, freeing the state Air Resources Board to continue to prepare for the new regulations by assessing reports from fuel producers and others. Those groups report their greenhouse gas emissions to the state even as legal challenges to the regulations work their way through the courts.

The regulations require producers, refiners and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce the carbon footprint of their fuel by 10% over the next decade, as part of California's landmark global-warming law aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The enforcement element of the law begins Jan. 1, 2013.

The regulation calculates the life cycle of fuels from their extraction -- or cultivation, in the case of biofuels such as corn-based ethanol -- to their combustion. For example, the state considers how corn is grown, harvested and converted to ethanol intended for California gas tanks, a life-cycle evaluation called “seeds to wheels.”

Oil refiners and corn-ethanol producers filed suit, alleging that the mandate was unfairly punitive to out-of-state fuel suppliers because it takes into account the energy required to transport the fuel to California. The 9th Circuit has not heard that case.

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-- Julie Cart