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Lead ammo still targeted despite court ruling

These cartridges with lead bullets are illegal for hunting in certain California areas to protect condors from lead poisoning.  (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
These cartridges with lead bullets are illegal for hunting in certain California areas to protect condors from lead poisoning. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

Environmental groups say a recent court loss won’t make them remove lead ammo from their crosshairs.

"We are absolutely going to push forward with our campaign to end lead ammunition. We think it’s the right thing to do for both wildlife and human health," Bill Snape, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Lewiston Tribune last week. "This is not about ending hunting, this is about having safe hunting, not only for wildlife but for hunters as well."

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower court’s ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency has no jurisdiction to regulate lead used in ammunition. The case was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, which joined 100 other groups in petitioning the EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act and asking the agency to regulate spent lead ammunition.

The groups contend lead ammo is responsible for poisoning millions of birds and other animals each year and say it also poses a threat to people who consume game killed with lead shot and bullets.

Hunters and ammunition makers argue that lead doesn’t pose a risk to wildlife on a population scale and say using lead substitutes would be too expensive and could damage some firearms. They also say banning lead ammunition would be a job killer, especially in places like Lewiston, which is home to multiple ammunition makers.

Here's more from the Tribune story by Outdoor write Eric Barker:

In the past, the environmental groups asked the agency to regulate all lead ammunition. The agency denied the request because the act contains a short provision exempting "cartridges and shells" from its jurisdiction.

This time the groups asked the agency to regulate spent ammunition, or the lead after it has exited a cartridge or shell. The three-judge panel rejected the argument.

"Their petition seeks the regulation of spent lead yet suggests no way in which EPA could regulate spent lead without also regulating cartridges and shells," the judges said in their ruling.

The decision was hailed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry.

"We are pleased the Court of Appeals considered the legal merits in the case and has now ruled that Congress has not given the EPA the authority to regulate ammunition, putting an end to efforts by anti-hunting zealots to end America’s hunting heritage," said Lawrence G. Keane, a senior vice president and attorney for the foundation.

But Snape said the groups will be back in some manner and suggested that could include more petitions to the EPA. He said they will also work to convince hunters to use nontoxic substitutes such as copper.

"We don’t understand why hunters across the country are not embracing non-lead ammo," he said. "This really is a matter of when, not a matter of if."

He said the groups have not yet decided if they will appeal the ruling.




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Rich Landers writes and photographs stories and columns for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including Outdoors feature sections on Sunday and Thursday.