The Environmental Protection Agency has denied a petition filed by environmental activists seeking to ban lead in ammunition, saying such regulation is beyond the agency's authority.
The agency's decision, announced Friday shortly after FoxNews.com published its report on the issue, sided with hunters and fishermen who had argued that the such regulations weren't allowed under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
"EPA is taking action on many fronts to address major sources of lead in our society, such as eliminating childhood exposures to lead," the agency said in a written statement. "However, EPA was not and is not considering taking action on whether the lead content in hunting ammunition poses an undue threat to wildlife."
A coalition of conservation groups had filed its petition earlier this month arguing that the use of lead in ammo and fishing tackle is poisoning the nation's lakes, ponds and forests and asking the EPA to ban the "manufacture, processing and distribution" of lead shot, bullets and fishing.
According to the petitioners, who include the Center for Biological Diversity and the American Bird Conservancy, up to 20 million birds and other animals are killed each year due to lead poisoning in the United States, and at least 75 wild bird species -- including bald eagles, ravens and endangered California condors -- are poisoned by spent lead ammunition. They say roughly 3,000 tons of lead are expelled into U.S. hunting grounds annually, with another 80,000 tons released at shooting ranges, and another 4,000 tons of lead fishing lures and sinkers are lost in ponds and streams.
But sportsmen don't want anyone tinkering with the tools of their trade.
The Toxic Substances Control Act allows the EPA to regulate "chemical substances" under certain circumstances, but Congress explicitly excluded from regulation any article subject to excise taxes -- including pistols, revolvers, firearms, shells and cartridges.
Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, objected to the pettion, saying the conservationists were trying to circumvent this rule by suggesting that while ammunition itself is exempt from regulation, the chemical components of the ammo and fishing lures -- specifically, the lead -- can fall under the EPA's jurisdiction.
But environmental activists like Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy told FoxNews.com that the petitioners waited to submit their request until nontoxic alternatives such as steel, copper and alloy became readily available.
"Ammunition itself cannot be regulated [under the Act], but the components itself can be regulated," Fry said in an interview before the EPA's decision was announced. "In other words, you cannot ban ammunition, but you can require nontoxic ammunition. ... We're not trying to ban handgun ammunition. This is strictly a toxicity issue, with lead poisoning wildlife."
FoxNews.com's Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report.