A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

No ‘Back Door’ Gun Control


Q: Did “Obama and the EPA” shut down the nation’s last lead smelting plant as part of a “back door gun control” plan to reduce the supply of ammunition?

A: No. The plant closing on Dec. 31 is in response to EPA rules adopted before President Obama took office, and ammunition manufacturers say it will not affect supply.

FULL QUESTION

Is the shutting down of the last lead smelting operation in the US a back door plot by the EPA and Obama administration to impact gun control and second amendment rights by limiting ammunition imports of foreign nations as the only source of lead ammunition now that smelting operations have ceased in the US?

Here is a copy of the email that I received that prompted me to ask FactCheck.org for an answer to my question concerning the EPA and the Clean Air Act to cause the smelting factories to close down and end production of lead for ammunition.

Back Door Gun Control Moves Forward

By: Terresa Monroe-Hamilton

Cross-Posted at Right Wing News

There are numerous alarming reasons why the US government and the military have been buying up all the ammo. Here’s one of them. Obama and the EPA just shut down the last lead smelting plant in the US. They raised the EPA regulations by 10 fold and it would have cost the plant $100 million to comply. You can own all the guns you want, but if you can’t get ammo, you are out of luck.

[EET ]

Remember when Obama promised his minions that he was working on gun control behind the scenes? Welcome to it. Now, all domestic mined lead ore will have to be shipped overseas, refined and then shipped back to the US. Not only will ammo now be even harder to come by, the demand and the process of supply will cause the price to skyrocket even more. And ponder this… there is an excellent chance that Obama will rig the market to where all ammo has to be purchased from a government entity instituting de facto ammo registration. So much for the Second Amendment. There has not been a peep about this in the major news outlets and it is done. With the US no longer producing lead, all supplies will now have to come from China, Australia or Peru, with the overwhelming emphasis on China. More redistribution of wealth; more economic and liberty crippling of the US on tap.

The asshats at the EPA (evil protection agency) had this to say:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the company “made a business decision” to shut down the smelter instead of installing pollution control technologies needed to reduce sulfur dioxide and lead emissions as required by the Clean Air Act.

The Doe Run Co. announced last year that it had dropped plans to build a new lead processing facility in Herculaneum that would have used a new, cleaner lead production technology. The company cited the $100 million project as too financially risky.

The EPA is playing Mafioso I guess — we didn’t make them shut down, they made a business decision. In other words, they couldn’t pay the extortion, so the thugs shut them down. I’m pretty sure that Americans are getting ready to make their own business decision regarding the Marxists and I don’t think it will be pleasant. But Marxists will do or die and are doubling down on the destruction of energy in America, our way of life and the Constitution. The smelting plant has known since 2010 this was coming. They couldn’t stop it and no one else rose up to stop it either. The business had been in production for 120 years and now goes the way of our auto industry.

The military’s obsession with ammo was related to security and supply. They knew this was coming too, so they bought up all they could get before the plug was pulled. Screw the average American. It’s as Chris Muir said, he’s not as worried about where the bullets will come from, as much as how the government will deliver them and I’m right there with him on that one.

So, back door gun control is moving forward and while we are all distracted with shiny stuff, our Second Amendment rights are just about gone. Obama is one Marxist dictator who is savvy at political chess. He has flanked the Second Amendment. Now it’s our move.[/EET]

FULL ANSWER

Let’s start with the one thing this viral email gets right: The Doe Run Company will close its primary lead smelter plant in Herculaneum, Mo., on Dec. 31 in response to what it called “increasingly stringent environmental regulations imposed on primary lead smelters.”

But the email is wrong to claim “Obama and the EPA” is responsible for forcing the plant to close after “they raised the EPA regulations by 10 fold.” The Environmental Protection Agency reduced the ambient air quality standard for lead from 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air to 0.15 in October 2008 during the Bush administration — not under Obama.

The email is also wrong when it says the Herculaneum plant is the “last lead smelting plant in the US.” The company says the Herculaneum plant is its last primary smelter in the United States. Doe Run and other companies operate secondary lead smelting plants. Primary plants use mined resources, while secondary plants use recycled materials, such as lead batteries.

The National Rifle Association says recycled lead “is the type most often used by ammunition manufacturers,” and the plant closing “should not have the dramatic impact that some have predicted.”

Missouri Coalition for the Environment v. the EPA

The impending closure of the Herculaneum plant has its origins in a 2004 lawsuit filed against the EPA by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment in the home state of the Doe Run Company. The environmental group argued that the EPA had failed its responsibility under the Clean Air Act to review and revise, if necessary, the air quality standards for lead every five years. In 2005, a U.S. District Court in Missouri agreed and ordered the EPA to conduct such a review, giving the agency until September 2008 to comply.

The EPA adopted tough new standards in October 2008. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported at the time that the new rules were “10 times more stringent than the old standard for lead, a toxic metal known to impair neurological development in children.”

Post-Dispatch, Oct. 7, 2008: Some national environmental groups had worried the agency would select a much weaker standard, pointing to last-minute lobbying of the White House by a lead industry group. Instead, the agency selected a standard that was in the low end of a range of numbers included in an EPA proposal last spring.

The paper quoted Dan Vornberg, vice president of environmental affairs for Doe Run, as saying: “The new standard will be dramatically lower and will have a significant impact on our operations.”

It wasn’t until 2010 that the company announced that it would close the Herculaneum plant. The announcement came as part of what Doe Run called a “landmark environmental agreement” with the EPA that also included a $3.5 million penalty that the company agreed to pay to federal, state and local government agencies and $7.5 million toward environmental projects.

The agreement was the culmination of a decades-long battle with the EPA and local residents, as the Associated Press reported shortly after the company announced the plant’s closing.

Associated Press, Dec. 11, 2010: Over the past three decades, the EPA has cited Doe Run for air emissions, lead dust in homes, and elevated levels of the metal in yards and children’s blood. The standards got even tougher two years ago, the result of a lawsuit by a Missouri environmental coalition on behalf of two former Herculaneum residents. The federal government changed its standards for the permissible amount of lead in the air for the first time in three decades, making them 10 times stricter.

The company also ran afoul of state regulators. In announcing the plant closing, Doe Run also noted that the Herculaneum smelter was scheduled to close anyway, because of state regulations. “The company will also discontinue operating its Herculaneum smelter by the end of 2013, rather than in 2016 as required by state regulation for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions,” the Doe Run announcement said.

Enter the Conspiracy Theories

As the date of the plant closing neared, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a story on Oct. 16 about the impact of the plant closing on workers  — triggering a series of conservative blog posts spinning conspiracy theories about why the plant was closing and the impact it would have on gun owners.

The viral email above included a blog post written by Terresa Monroe-Hamilton that appeared Oct. 29 on NoisyRoom.net and Right Wing News under the headline, “Back Door Gun Control Moves Forward.” A week or so later, the New American posted an item that carried the headline, “EPA Closure of Last Lead Smelting Plant to Impact Ammunition Production.” It claimed that “recent actions taken against the country’s last lead smelting facility will affect the right to keep and bear arms.”

The New American website even “connected this dot” (the plant closing) to other Second Amendment conspiracy theories (including one we already debunked about unfounded fears of a U.N. gun ban treaty) to expose an “overall plan to leave Americans without weapons and ammunition.”

Nonsense.

The NRA’s lobbying arm — the Institute for Legislative Action — initially fueled the concerns about the impact of the plant closing on the supply and price of ammunition. In an Oct. 25 blog item, the NRA-ILA didn’t blame Obama. It correctly noted that the EPA tightened the air quality standards in 2008. But the NRA-ILA said: “Whatever the EPA’s motivation when creating the new lead air quality standard, increasingly restrictive regulation of lead is likely to affect the production and cost of traditional ammunition.”

But then there was push back from ammunition suppliers and the NRA-ILA walked back its earlier statement. The NRA-ILA posted a second item on Dec. 5 that carried the headline, “U.S. Ammunition Industry to Survive Closure of Lead Smelter.”

The NRA-ILA said the lead used to make ammunition “makes up only about three percent of lead consumption in the United States,” and most of that comes from recycled lead. “This recycled lead, which will still be able to be smelted in the United States at secondary smelters even after the Herculaneum smelter closes, is the type most often used by ammunition manufacturers,” the NRA-ILA said.

The NRA-ILA update also linked to two ammunition manufacturers who say the plant closing won’t have any impact on their operations or on the nation’s ammunition supply.

Ammunition Manufacturers Respond

One of the companies that the NRA-ILA cites in its blog post is Sierra, an ammunition company based in Doe Run’s home state of Missouri. Sierra said in a Nov. 1 blog post that it uses only recycled lead, so the plant closing will not affect its supply of lead or its manufacturing of ammunition.

“Sierra uses no primary lead at all and never has, so we use nothing directly from this facility,” Sierra said, referring to the plant that is closing. “The lead we buy from Doe Run comes from their recycling facility in Boss, MO that is about 90 miles away from the smelter that is closing.”

The company said it sees “no reason for alarm.”

The NRA-ILA also linked to Federal Premium Ammunition’s FAQ page, which includes a question about the plant closing and the impact on its ammunition manufacturing. “At this time we do not anticipate any additional strain on our ability to obtain lead,” it said.

Federal also addressed other questions about the Department of Homeland Security causing an ammunition shortage by buying up bullets and “taking away ammunition from civilians” — another conspiracy theory that we have debunked. The company’s FAQ page says, “The current increase in demand is attributed to the civilian market” — not the government. Update, Feb. 14, 2014: In fact, the Government Accountability Office said in a January 2014 report that Homeland Security’s annual ammunition purchases have declined every year since fiscal year 2009, dropping from 132.9 million rounds in 2009 to 84.4 million in 2013.

Federal’s parent company, ATK Sporting Group, elaborated in an April 11, 2013 letter to its customers. It acknowledged that there has been “an industry-wide shortage [of ammunition] at most retail outlets,” but it cited an “unprecedented demand for commercial ammunition.” The company letter said there is “much speculation and misinformation” about the shortage that is “false and baseless.”

ATK Sporting Group, April 11: In one example, there are a vocal few who believe that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is buying excessive quantities of ammunition thereby restricting availability to the commercial market. Simply stated, this is a false and baseless claim. In fact, we do supply the DHS with a small percentage of ammunition in select calibers consistent with our contractual requirements. However, the commercial market receives the vast majority of ammunition produced to serve the needs of civilian hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts.

The Federal Premium FAQ page says its “production volumes on government contracts have been stable since the mid-2000s.”

So to recap:

  • The last primary smelter in the United States is indeed closing on Dec. 31, but because of EPA regulations passed under Bush — not during the Obama administration.
  • Ammunition manufacturers most often use recycled lead from secondary smelters, so the closing of the nation’s last primary smelter will not have much of an effect on ammunition supply.
  • There is an ammunition shortage, but it is being caused by an unprecedented demand in the civilian market — not by government purchases.

— Eugene Kiely

Sources

Press release. “Herculaneum Smelter Update.” The Doe Run Company. 7 Nov 2013.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Lead Air Quality Standards.” Undated, accessed 18 Dec 2013.

National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action. “U.S. Ammunition Industry to Survive Closure of Lead Smelter.” 5 Dec 2013.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Fact Sheet: First Draft Staff Paper for Lead.” Undated, accessed 18 Dec. 2013.

Missouri Coalition for the Environment, et al v. the United States Environmental Protection Agency. No. 4:04CV00660 ERW. U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri. 14 Sep 2005.

Press release. “The Doe Run Company Reaches Landmark Environmental Agreement.” The Doe Run Company. 8 Oct 2010.

Suhr, Jim. “Lead smelter’s pending exodus tugs at Mo. town.” Associated Press. 11 Dec 2010.

Thorsen, Leah. “Doe Run workers to be cut at end of December.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 16 Oct 2013.

Monroe-Hamilton, Terresa. “Back Door Gun Control Moves Forward.” NoisyRoom.net. 29 Oct 2013.

Wolverton, Joe II. “EPA Closure of Last Lead Smelting Plant to Impact Ammunition Production.” 6 Nov 2013.

Gore, D’Angelo. “Still No International Gun Ban Treaty.” FactCheck.org. 27 Jun 2012.

National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action. “End of an Era: Last U.S. Lead Smelter to Close in December.” 25 Oct 2013.

Press release. “Sierra Responds: How Will the Closure of the Lead Smelting Plant Affect Sierra Bullets?” Sierra. 1 Nov 2013.

Frequently Asked Questions. Federal Premium Ammunition. Undated, accessed 18 Dec 2013.

Finley, Ben. “Did FEMA Create a Youth Army?” FactCheck.org. 30 Nov 2013.

ATK Sporting Group. ATK Sporting Group letter to customers. 11 Apr 2013.