The Environmental Protection Agency is shirking its responsibilities and contributing to the deaths of animals by failing to ban the use of lead-based ammunition, according to a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups.
The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, along with several other conservation groups, petitioned the EPA in August to ban lead-based ammunition, citing the number of animals that die of lead poisoning after accidentally ingesting fragments left behind by hunters.
The EPA later rejected the center’s petition in a news release, contending that it “does not have the legal authority to regulate” ammunition, nor would it seek such authority.
But according to Robert Johns, a spokesman for the American Bird Conservancy, another agency involved in the petition, the EPA’s position is not only invalid but grossly irresponsible given the magnitude of the issue involved.
“There are almost 500 scientific, peer-reviewed studies proving that somewhere between 10 and 15 million birds die every year of lead poisoning,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, birds are exposed to lead when scavenging through carcasses left behind by hunters. Birds of prey, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons and California condors, are frequent victims of lead poisoning.
“The poisoning of our national symbol is a national disgrace,” Johnson said, adding, “The fact that the EPA is choosing to ignore this issue is stunning.”
A spokeswoman for the EPA, based in Washington, D.C., said that the agency would not be able to formally comment on the groups’ statements until Friday.
Landis Aden, who lobbies and formerly served as president for the Arizona State Rifle & Pistol Association, said he doubts the veracity of the studies cited in the petition.
“We take issue with the so-called science in these studies,” Aden said. “Lead is a naturally occurring substance, so I don’t see how it’s killing all these birds.”
At the heart of the debate, however, is the breadth of the EPA’s jurisdiction in effecting legislative change.
The Center for Biological Diversity contends that the EPA does indeed have the authority to institute a nationwide ban on lead-based ammunition, a power endowed by the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The center submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the EPA asking for all documents pertaining to the agency’s denial of its petition.
“We’re definitely going to keep pushing forward on the lead issue,” said Jeff Miller, an attorney for the center, which has attracted controversy for its litigious approach to advocacy. “We’re evaluating all our options at this point, and certainly legal recourse is one of them.”