The Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy, organizations representing the ethanol industry, have filed papers in U.S. District Court in California asking the court to declare that California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) violates the U.S. Constitution. A hearing is set for February 23, 2011.

The two groups issued a joint statement concerning the filing, noting that: “With these papers filed in federal court, the ethanol industry is seeking a preliminary injunction, as well as summary judgment, to halt implementation of the regulation. Our argument is that the regulation, as written, is unconstitutional and injurious to the domestic ethanol industry, and we don’t believe a full trial is needed to do that.”

The ethanol groups first filed their suit in December of 2009. This summer, the court overruled a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, clearing the way for them to continue with their claims.

California approved the state’s LCFS in January of this year and several other states have also announced that they intend to follow California’s lead.

Purpose of the LCFS is to reduce the full fuel-cycle carbon intensity of the transportation fuels used in the state by gradually lowering the carbon content allowed in the transportation fuel mix over time.

A 10% carbon reduction is required by 2020, but reductions are scheduled to begin phasing in next year. California has alleged that corn-based ethanol, according to its LCFS metrics, may actually be higher in carbon intensity than the gasoline currently in use in the state.

The action against California is not the only legal battle ethanol producers may be fighting. Today, Growth Energy also issued a statement concerning another brand new lawsuit, this one filed by a coalition of farm and food groups to overturn the EPA’s initial decision to allow blends of up to 15% ethanol (E15) with gasoline:

“In 2008, these big food companies gouged consumers while trying to shift the blame to America’s ethanol producers and farmers, so we’re not surprised by their actions today,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Having been unable to dispute the overwhelming science in favor of E15, they are now turning to the legal process to slow progress on renewable fuels. We will fully evaluate their lawsuit, but the expansion of renewable fuels in America should be based on science. As extensive testing has shown, E15 is a good fuel for American motorists.”

Farm and food petitioners in the lawsuit, which was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, include the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the American Meat Institute, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, the National Meat Association, the National Turkey Federation, the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers Council, the Snack Food Association and the American Frozen Food Institute.

The Coalition, in their statement concerning the filing said: “In approving E15, which is compatible only with certain, later-model automobile and other types of engines, the EPA has clearly exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has unlawfully interpreted the statute to achieve a particular outcome. The agency has a legal obligation to adhere to the letter and spirit of the Clean Air Act and, in this case, has failed to do so. We are confident that the Court will agree and require the EPA to reverse course."

The ethanol industry has been beset with various problems, legal and otherwise, since its promising boom days earlier in the decade. In 2008, according to a report done for the Renewable Fuels Association, slumping fuel demands; the collapse of the financial markets; and a collapse of oil, grain and ethanol prices combined to cause the idling of some 23 ethanol plants nationwide. This represented a loss of nearly 1.7 billion gallons of capacity, although the industry continues to grow overall.

Ethanol production, which now consumes about 33% the U.S. corn crop, has also been blamed for causing a host of unintended consequences, including a run-up in the price of food worldwide and even food shortages.

Commercially growing corn on a large scale also requires large quantities of pesticides, fertilizers and water that make using corn for anything but food for humans and livestock seem costly and inappropriate to corn-based ethanol detractors.