Court: EPA cannot regulate lead bullets

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot regulate lead ammunition used by hunters, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

A group of environmental organizations was seeking to force the EPA to regulate spent lead bullets and shots under the Toxic Substances Control Act. They argued the lead from bullet fragments is harmful to animals and hunters who eat those animals.

But the EPA rejected the groups’ petition, saying the agency is not allowed to regulate gun cartridges and shells under federal law.

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The environmental groups sued the EPA, but a federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected their claims.

"We agree with EPA that it lacks statutory authority to regulate the type of spent bullets and shot identified in the environmental groups’ petition,” Judge David Tatel wrote for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. 

The federal appeals court confirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of the EPA.

More than 101 environmental groups joined the lawsuit against the EPA. This is the second such lawsuit pressing the agency to regulate lead ammunition. 

The environmental groups argue that spent lead bullets are accidentally ingested by animals, which leads to lead poisoning. This can also cause severe health effects for hunters who later eat these animals, the groups say.

But the environmental groups complaint fell on deaf ears, failing in court for a second time on Tuesday.

The federal appeals court agreed with the EPA that it cannot differentiate between lead ammunition and “cartridges and shells,” which the agency is prohibited from regulating under a provision of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

"Given that bullets and shot can become ‘spent' only if they are first contained in a cartridge or shell and then fired from a weapon, petitioners have identified no way in which EPA could regulate spent bullets and shot without also regulating cartridges and shells,” the court ruled.

Lawmakers passed a similar provision in the recent spending bill blocking the EPA from regulating lead content in ammunition and fish tackle.