Environmental Protection Agency denies conservationists' petition to ban lead fishing tackle
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency denied on Thursday a petition by several environmental groups to ban lead in fishing tackle, two months after rejecting the groups' attempt to ban it in hunting ammunition.
The EPA said that the petition did not demonstrate that a ban on lead in fishing tackle was necessary to protect against unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act.
In a letter to the American Bird Conservancy, one of the groups that filed the petition, EPA Assistant Administrator Stephen A. Owens said that a number of steps are being taken to address the concerns of lead in fishing tackle. Among them: limitations of lead in fishing gear on some federal lands; bans or restrictions on the state level; and federal and state outreach and education efforts.
"The emergence of these programs and activities over the past decade calls into question whether the broad rulemaking requested in your petition would be the least burdensome, adequately protective approach," Owens wrote to the conservancy's director of conservation advocacy, Michael Fry.
In their petition, the groups had argued that lead from spent hunting ammunition and lost lead fishing gear causes the deaths of 10 million to 20 million birds and other animals a year by lead poisoning.
Fry assailed the EPA's decision. "The EPA has apparently completely abdicated its responsibility for regulating toxic lead in circumstances where wildlife are being poisoned," he said.
Fry suggested the reason for the decision was politics: "The political appointees have acted in this administration not like heads of agencies, but like they're running for office."
In a statement, the EPA said: "This decision is based solely on an analysis of the facts and the law. EPA conducted a careful review of this petition and made a determination that the petitioners did not make the case that is required under [the law] to undertake a national ban on lead in fishing gear."
The petition, filed three months ago, stoked alarm among outdoorsmen, and members of the House and Senate introduced legislation aimed at preventing the EPA from regulating ammunition or fishing tackle.
The American Sportfishing Assn. praised the EPA announcement.
"It represents a solid review of the biological facts, as well as the economic and social impacts that would have resulted from such a sweeping federal action," said group vice president Gordon Robertson. "It is a common-sense decision." He argued that a lead ban would increase costs and price out many anglers, which in turn would decrease tax and license revenue for fisheries conservation.
In 1994, under President Clinton and EPA administrator Carol Browner, now White House energy adviser, the EPA actually proposed banning lead and zinc in certain smaller-size fishing sinkers. The agency said in a statement at the time: "The ingestion of even one small fishing sinker containing lead or zinc can result in the death of a water bird."
The proposal sparked a backlash in Congress. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced the "Common Sense in Fishing Regulations Act" in 1995 that would have blocked the EPA from implementing it. The agency eventually abandoned the proposal.
The American Bird Conservancy filed the petition in August along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Assn. of Avian Veterinarians, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and a hunters group called Project Gutpile, seeking a ban on lead in both hunting ammunition and fishing tackle.
The petition cited nearly 500 peer-reviewed scientific articles that the groups said document the toxic effects of lead on wildlife. These studies "conclude that the lead components of bullets, shotgun pellets, fishing weights and lures pose an unreasonable risk of injury to human and wildlife health and the environment," the Aug. 3 petition argued.
The EPA earlier rejected the ammunition part of the petition, saying it didn't have authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act, and said it would make a decision on the part pertaining to fishing tackle. In September, 60 groups wrote to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson asking her to grant the petition for both ammunition and tackle.
-- Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press
Photo: Geese at the Porter Valley Country Club in Northridge. Geese are among the birds conservation groups say are at risk for lead poisoning through the accidental ingestion of lead fishing sinkers. Credit: Los Angeles Times