Enviros urge amendment to kill lead provision in Tester sportsmen's bill

Posted: Nov 16, 2012

Written by

PHIL TAYLOR, Greenwire

Some environmentalists today urged senators to oppose language in a package of bills by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) that would clarify lead bullets are exempt from U.S. EPA regulation.

A manager's amendment to S. 3525 -- which is set to receive a final vote soon -- drew fire today from the Center for Biological Diversity, which argues that lead bullets threaten hunter health and harm bird species such as the endangered California condor.

Bill Snape, a senior attorney for CBD, said he is hopeful Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will offer an amendment to block the lead provision or at least require a government study of its impacts.

"It looks like the amendment strategy is our last hope," Snape said. "That we are even in this position is a scary harbinger of what might be in store with closed backroom deals during the lame duck."

Most conservation groups have supported Tester's legislation or at least are not opposed it. The bipartisan package of about 20 bills is endorsed by the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and dozens of other groups.

"The big greens have been oddly silent on lead," Snape said. "I think it will change once there's an amendment."

Boxer's office today declined to comment on the issue. The filing deadline for amendments to Tester's bill is 4 p.m. EST today, but leaders have not decided which, if any, amendments will receive votes.

Boxer in the past has said she opposes the lead provision and would likely vote against the bill's passage unless it is removed. She was among five senators to vote against proceeding to the bill last night (E&E Daily, Nov. 14).

NSSF, a trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry, on its website denounced as false the claims by CBD and others that lead ammunition harms wildlife populations -- including bald eagles that feed on the entrails of harvested game -- or that it threatens the health of humans who consume animals shot with lead bullets.

"Absent sound scientific evidence demonstrating a population impact caused by the use of traditional ammunition, there is no justification for restricting or banning its use," the group said.

But Snape said that the provision was included the bill without a congressional hearing or floor debate and that scientific studies suggest the opposite.

"Lead is a known neurotoxin that kills wildlife and causes humans serious harm," Snape said. "Will the Senate agree to protect wildlife and public health, or will it cave to the NRA and promote continued lead poisoning?"

Snape said he expects more than 150 conservation, hunting and health groups to rally behind efforts to amend the bill.

Daniel Rosenberg of the Natural Resources Defence Council said in a blog post yesterday that he, too, has concerns with the lead provision and that it should be dropped or at least narrowed.

"That provision could potentially create a broad exemption for chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act," he wrote.

CBD and several other bird and wildlife groups in June filed suit against U.S. EPA, arguing the agency erred in rejecting their petition asking the agency to consider banning lead in ammunition (E&ENews PM, June 7).

The broader Tester bill enjoys strong bipartisan support.

It would conserve wetlands, allow funding for shooting ranges on public lands and safeguard the use of lead bullets and fishing tackle, among other provisions. It would also extend a decade-old law that allows federal agencies to conserve sensitive habitats using proceeds from the sales of lower-value federal lands.

It also would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to raise more money from the sale of duck stamps, which fund wetlands conservation, while expanding a program that allows the stamps to be purchased online.

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