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Despite Obama ‘over-regulation,’ fireworks industry continues to take off

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Firework sales in America are booming, no thanks to the Obama administration.

Sales of low-and high-grade celebratory pyrotechnics in the U.S. – both commercial and personal – expect to reach $1 billion, especially since more states and municipalities are allowing the purchase of sparklers, Roman candles, and other consumer fireworks. Many of these places have been rewriting obscure regulations banning limiting their use.

But with Fourth of July heralding the start of a busy buying season, one obstacle remains, the industry says: President Barack Obama.

With duplicate safety rules regulating fireworks or limitations on the weekly time truckers spend on the road, Darren Samuelsohn of POLITICO writes that manufacturers, distributors and sellers all say Obama’s restrictions are “completely insane,” limiting a patriotic and all-American industry.

However, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission officials insist that the fireworks industry is on dangerous ground. This week, the agency produced data showing that in 2014, there were 11 fatalities and over 10,000 injuries from fireworks.

Although those injury statistics may be down from the previous year, it’s still an “unacceptable number,” according to CPSC communications director Scott Wolfson, who warned it could get worse as more states loosen restrictions on fireworks.

American Pyrotechnics Association executive director Julie Heckman, in an interview with Samuelsohn, discussed her busy season – capped by July 4 — where part of her job is checking in with operators of about 15,000 professional firework performances nationwide.

“It is very nerve-racking,” Heckman says, calling Independence Day her industry’s “Christmas season.”

“We love dealing with the press, the media, but there is always that concern that your phone’s going to ring with potentially bad news that something went wrong somewhere,” she says. “We’re prepared for it, we pray it doesn’t happen, and we just want to get through July 5th and read the headlines that everything went off perfectly.”

As for the relaxing of firework bans – some or all types of consumer fireworks are now legal in 47 states and Washington, D.C. – Heckman says it was driven “a little bit by the economy” and also lack of enforcement.

“People are going to celebrate on the Fourth of July with fireworks, and typically they will cross state lines, county lines,” she points out. “They’ll bring their fireworks back to their home where it might not be legal … states are saying, ‘Hey, we don’t want to lose that revenue.  We’d like to gain it in our state.’”

Heckman notes that fireworks-related injury statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission are, in reality, “very positive.”

“We look at the consumption, the overall usage of backyard consumer fireworks has increased significantly during the past decade,” she tells Samuelsohn, “and when you look at the use of fireworks and compare to the number of injuries, actually, the injury rate has declined.”

Heckman says the biggest goal for her industry on Capitol Hill is the reauthorization of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act.

“That will fix a few issues for us,” she says, “including the ongoing problems with EX [explosives] approvals and special permits, fixing the hazmat safety permit program, and also addressing duplicative background checks.”

She admits the push has “been going on forever,” remaining cautiously optimistic about the measure’s chances this session.

I think the primary issue that the fireworks industry has right now with the Consumer Product Safety Commission is the testing for audible effect,” she says. “That ear test needs to go away. We need something that can be replicated in the field, predominantly in China using a lab so that everybody’s on the same level.  Because what’s loud to me might not be loud to you.”

With Obama administration’s regulatory approach, Heckman says that in 26 years of working in the industry, she has never witnessed so many rulemaking initiatives.

“It has just been completely insane,” she says. “You know, I’m not saying it’s necessary, but it would be really great when — take a tiny industry like fireworks, and we’ve got to comply with ATF, CPSC, EPA, OSHA, multiple divisions of the Department of Transportation, it’s really challenging.

“It would be great if we could have one agency that took care of everything, and I’m sure there are other industries that are also feeling that pain, but it has been very significant.”

The full interview is available on POLITICO.com.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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