Fireworks industry: Free us from the feds

Fireworks manufacturers say the July 4th displays being staged across country are happening in the face of government regulations that make selling the products an ordeal. [WATCH VIDEO]
 
While fireworks have to pass through a gauntlet of federal and state regulations before lighting up the skies, it’s the rules governing shipments that the industry says have become the most painful to comply with.
 

ADVERTISEMENT
"We rely on intermodal transportation," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. She noted that most fireworks are now imported from countries like China, Japan and Italy.
 
"Without transport, we can't do anything,” she said.
 
Fireworks shipments must clear a litany of regulations and permit processes before ever reaching a roadside stand. The rules vary depending on whether the fireworks are intended for consumers — think roman candles and bottle rockets — or for sky-covering displays.
 
Consumer products are limited to about 50 mg of explosive powder, or about half the size of an aspirin tablet, and are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The agency sets standards for labeling, chemical composition and construction.

The job of regulating commercial-grade fireworks falls to The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

But all fireworks, no matter their strength, must receive shipping clearance from the Department of Transportation (DOT).

DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration approves about 22,000 new types of fireworks each year, but the fireworks industry says the process has long been a bureaucratic nightmare.

"It's a very tedious process and it's something that we've been trying to get improved for a number of years," Heckman said.

The DOT Agency is currently working on a rule that would allow approved outside organizations to give fireworks a stamp of approval. The agency issued a proposal last year that sets the new system in motion, and the agency hopes to finalize the rule by the end of the summer, a spokesman told The Hill.

Drivers and technicians also have sought out special treatment to let them drive longer during the holiday rush.

The truckers usually have a limit of 14 hours for their shifts, but for a number of years the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has granted them an exemption for the weeks around July 4.

Last Friday, the July 4th exemption was granted again, allowing drivers to exclude any time spent sleeping or off-duty from the 14-hour limit between June 20 and July 8.

In the exemption notice, the FMCSA said that drivers "will maintain a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level of safety that would be obtained by complying with the regulation."

"We've had this exemption for over eight years and it is critical for the display companies to have that exemption for this very limited period of time, to just make July 4 happen," Heckman said.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety opposed the exemption, however, arguing it should be given on a case-by-case basis.

In a letter to the FMCSA, the group wrote that it "opposes the granting of this application and any applications for exemption, let alone a blanket exemption for large groups of companies."

"The safety history of each company included in the application must be examined individually and an independent decision regarding each company’s ability to maintain an equivalent or greater level of safety should be made before granting the blanket exemption."

Fireworks companies also want the motor carrier administration to give truckers a better process for appealing violations that slow down their shipments.

"There needs to be at least an additional level of review, because right now there is no process to fully appeal, to say 'Hey, I had my paperwork. The state enforcement agency wrote up my violation incorrectly,' " said Heckman

A FMCSA spokesman said that the agency was preparing a report on improving the permit program and is planning to send it to Congress later this year.