High Court’s action clears pathway for low-carbon fuel standard programs.

By Joshua T. Bledsoe, Kimberly D. Farbota, and Brian F. McCall

On May 13, 2019, the US Supreme Court denied certiorari in American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), et al., v. O’Keeffe, et al (O’Keeffe), effectively affirming a US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision that upheld the constitutionality of Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program (CFP). The CFP is modeled after, and operates according to, the same principles and general structure as California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program. Petitioners argued that Oregon’s CFP discriminates against out-of-state fuels in violation of the US Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Clause. Oregon argued that while a state may not regulate wholly out-of-state commerce, there is no constitutional bar to a state regulating its fuels market based on a product’s objectively measured contributions to in-state harms (i.e., regulating based on harm caused by a fuel’s carbon intensity).

With the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case, the Ninth Circuit’s September 2018 ruling that Oregon’s CFP does not unconstitutionally favor in-state fuels over out-of-state fuels stands. The denial of certiorari follows a 2014 refusal by the Supreme Court to review a Ninth Circuit decision in a similar case, commonly known as Rocky Mountain I, that upheld the constitutionality of California’s LCFS program under the same reasoning.