SAN FRANCISCO – Environmentalists sued the federal government Wednesday, complaining that it has failed to regulate emissions from oceangoing vessels that pollute the air and cause respiratory illness around ports nationwide.
The lawsuit alleges that the Environmental Protection Agency has missed its deadline to set emissions standards for ship engines that spew exhaust into communities surrounding major ports in Oakland, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle and other cities. The complaint was filed by Oakland-based Earthjustice on behalf of Friends of the Earth.
"These emissions have a widespread negative impact on the people and the environment," said Teri Shore, Friends of the Earth's clean vessels campaign director in San Francisco. "What's at stake here is the lives of thousand of people around the country who will continue to inhale diesel exhaust from large ships."
EPA officials in Washington did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Oceangoing ships are among the fast-growing sources of air pollution, with emissions projected to double in North America over the next 10 to 20 years. A single cruise liner or cargo ship can emit as much pollution as 350,000 cars, and hundreds of large vessels dock at the nation's major ports each month, activists said.
Studies have linked air pollution from ports to higher rates of asthma, cancer, heart disease and other health ailments.
The complaint alleges that the EPA is required to regulate ship pollution under the federal Clean Air Act. In response to a previous lawsuit by environmentalists, the agency had committed in 2003 to set emissions standards by April this year, but no new regulations have been issued.
The complaint also contends that the agency has failed to regulate ships registered in foreign countries, which make up more than 80 percent of large vessel traffic at U.S. ports.
Last year, the California Air Resources Board passed a new law requiring large ships to use cleaner fuel when traveling within 24 miles of the state's coast. But a federal judge last week ruled that the state did not have the authority to establish shipping fuel standards without approval from the EPA.