The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District announced last Wednesday that it will sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly failing to regulate pollution from ships along the coast.

This escalation is just the latest development in a long-standing disagreement between the local Pollution Control District and the federal agency. The issue stems from a disagreement between the two organizations concerning the EPA’s enforcement of emission standards required by the Clean Air Act of 1970. The suit will challenge a Dec. 4, 2007 EPA decision that would ultimately postpone its regulation of offshore emissions until 2010.

Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control Officer Terry Dressler accused the agency of ignoring the need to enforce policies.

“The EPA has had many chances to change course and to meet its own deadlines to regulate these ships,” Dressler said. “Instead we’ve seen one delay after another for a period of years.”

However, the EPA has defended its actions, asserting that the county does not have the jurisdiction to order the federal agency to meet any timetable. By instituting a rule or deadline, the EPA said that the county Air Pollution Control District oversteps its power.

Conversely, the county Air Pollution Control District has argued that by extending its own deadline, the EPA is not fulfilling its legislative responsibility.

Regardless, Dressler said the pollution coming from these large ships continues to grow, despite decreases in pollution from other sources.

“Every time we do an inventory of air pollution in this county, we see emissions from ships growing even as other sources are reducing their pollution,” Dressler said. “This can’t continue. [The] EPA must regulate this huge source of pollution to ensure that we can sustain our clean-air progress.”

He also said that much of the pollution stems from large ships that run on massive two-stroke engines that can produce about as much energy as a small power plant.

Officials at the county Air Pollution Control District estimate that the large ships passing through the Santa Barbara Channel are responsible for more than 45 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions in the county. If this pollution continues unchecked, officials estimate that this number could rise as high as 75 percent by 2020.