Crush of comments accuses agency of seeking to ban guns

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

In less than 30 days, the Environmental Protection Agency turned aside a request to ban lead from being used in ammunition.

The EPA, however, continues to consider a similar request covering fishing sinkers.

Despite the action on ammunition, hunters rushed to the regulations.gov site where comments on the fishing sinker issue are being taken.

Sinkers were only infrequently mentioned, with most of the comments dealing with lead ammunition. While many were automated comments, others railed at the notion of a federal agency even considering the regulation of ammunition, calling it little more than a political ploy and a "backdoor attempt to ban firearms completely."

The request for a ban on lead used in both ammunition and fishing sinkers was made jointly by American Bird Conservancy and the Center for Biological Diversity, arguing that animals are poisoned when they scavenge carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments, or pick up and eat spent lead-shot pellets or lost fishing weights, mistaking them for food or grit.

"EPA reached this decision because the agency does not have the legal authority to regulate this type of product under the Toxic Substances Control Act -- nor is the agency seeking such authority," according to a statement issued by Steve Owens, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

He went on to say the EPA would not take action on "whether the lead content in hunting ammunition poses an undue threat to wildlife."

That's not the case with lead used in fishing sinkers.

"As there are no similar jurisdictional issues relating to the agency's authority over fishing sinkers," Owens said, "EPA - as required by law - will continue formally reviewing a second part the petition related to lead fishing sinkers."

Both groups requesting the ban expressed disappointment with the EPA's decision.

"The EPA had ample evidence that lead bullets and shot have a devastating effect on America's wildlife, yet has refused to do anything about it," said Darin Schroeder, a spokesman for American Bird Conservancy.

"We strongly believe that the EPA has the clear authority and duty to regulate this very harmful and toxic substance as used in bullets and shot, despite the so-called exemption for lead ammunition that is written into TSCA," said Adam Keats, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. "We had hoped they would take that responsibility seriously but we remain committed to making sure toxic lead is removed from the environment and we'll redouble our efforts to see that through."

Animals are poisoned when they scavenge on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments, or pick up and eat spent lead-shot pellets or lost fishing weights, mistaking them for food or grit.

Anyone wanting to comment on the fishing tackle issue can do so at www.regulations.gov. The EPA will consider comments submitted by Oct. 31.