- - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What is it with the bureaucrats and our celebrations?

They’re “completely insane” over fireworks, according to the pyrotechnic industry, after bureaucrats issued pre-Fourth of July warnings claiming that fireworks are dangerous pollutants.

There’s plenty of red, white and blue this Independence Day — especially the red tape. Federal regulations govern the import, testing, shipping, sales and displays of firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, fountains, sparklers and all the rest.

The Obama administration EPA argues that fireworks contribute to air pollution — but they’ve got a regulation pending about that. Meantime, communities must ask the Environmental Protection Agency to grant an “exceptional event” waiver when smoke from a public fireworks display drifts near an air-quality monitoring station. Without the waiver, the community could be penalized for polluted air. Never mind that fireworks on the Fourth is a cherished tradition.

The latest ozone proposal from EPA would reduce the count of permitted particles from the now-allowed 75 parts per billion to either 70 or 65. That sounds tiny but creates massive expense. Imagine the effort to track down and remove 5 or 10 ozone particles scattered among a billion. That ratio is as tough as the odds of winning a massive Powerball jackpot, estimated as 1 in 175 million.

So fireworks are on an endangered species list, along with other middle-class pollutants such as outdoor grilling or mowing your lawn. If the EPA quits issuing “exceptional event” waivers, places with holiday fireworks might be declared a “non-attainment area” every July 4th. That triggers a loss of federal highway funds and a host of draconian requirements.


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It’s not just the EPA. One National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist just published a fireworks study warning that “the explosives can have dangerous side effects, including fires, injury, and death. Air pollution is another potentially harmful effect of fireworks, which release gaseous sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide; hazardous trace elements such as aluminum, manganese, and cadmium; and particulate matter (PM), evidenced by visible clouds of smoke during displays. Exposure to PM is associated with a broad range of adverse human health effects, mainly affecting the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.”

But how significant is the danger? Fourth of July displays often feature “The Star-Spangled Banner,” depicting the rockets’ red glare in the 1814 British bombardment of Fort McHenry. During that 25-hour bombardment, four Americans were killed, at a time when the U.S. population was under 10 million people. Today we have 320 million, but bureaucrats treat even a single death as cause for massive regulation.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission issues missives each year on fireworks. They attribute 11 American deaths in 2014 to fireworks (including house fires as well as explosive injuries), compared to single digits every other year since 2010. Yet the CPSC admits that “there is not a statistically significant trend in estimated emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries from 1999 to 2014.” And injuries dropped from 11,400 in 2013 to 10,500 in 2014.

The industry claims credit for improving safety. The executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, Julie Heckman, told Politico, “the overall usage of backyard consumer fireworks has increased significantly during the past decade. When you look at the use of fireworks and compare then the number of injuries, actually, the injury rate has declined.”

Ms. Heckman said the Obama administration is over the top when it come to regulating fireworks.

“I’ve been working with the industry for a very long time, 26 years. I have never seen as many rule-making initiatives as I have with this administration. It has just been completely insane. …We’ve got to comply with ATF, CPSC, EPA, OSHA, multiple divisions of the Department of Transportation. It’s really challenging.”

The red tape includes a need for annual waivers for truck drivers to make time-sensitive deliveries of fireworks, allowing them to stretch out their normal rest periods. Dozens of trucking firms must seek fresh exemptions each year, as though the need did not recur every July 4 and New Years’ Day.

The Coast Guard publishes notices in the Federal Register each year about safety zones in waterways around public displays. Recent notices cover the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers around Pittsburgh, the Port of New York, Lake Michigan, the Chesapeake Bay, and scores of other venues which annually have Independence Day fireworks. Yet the red tape must be re-issued and repeated each year before those red rockets can be fired.

America cannot have its annual birthday party without permission from the bureaucracy. But where were they when we needed them? The British might have stayed away from Fort McHenry if they had needed the permits and permissions required for today’s fireworks shows.

But then who would remember Francis Scott Key?

Former Congressman Ernest Istook is president of Americans For Less Regulation. Get his free newsletter at eepurl.com/JPojD.

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