Passed last year, the Safe Explosives Act ordered the creation of tougher federal rules regulating the transportation of explosives by air, truck, water and rail. Since then, the three responsible agencies have managed to agree on and issue regulations regarding transport by truck, air, and water. However, regulations concerning transportation of explosives by rail and have become mired in interagency squabbles. Most of the aerial explosives used in large Fourth of July displays are shipped via rail.
In a recent letter, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wisconsin) urged Attorney General Ashcroft, DOT Secretary Mineta and Homeland Security Director Ridge to quickly resolve their dispute regarding Safe Explosives Act so fireworks can be delivered for Fourth of July celebrations.
"Currently, the lack of action on rail transport threatens to prevent the delivery of fireworks for the Fourth of July in many areas of the country," wrote Sensenbrenner. "I ask that you move to issue interim regulations on rail by the end of this week so that the nations fireworks will be delivered on time. Beyond that, I ask that you redouble your efforts to get the other necessary regulations out as quickly as possible so that further legislative action will not be necessary."
Railroads Stop Shipping Explosives
U.S. railroads stopped shipping explosives in April because sections of the Safe Explosives Act requiring background checks of persons handling explosives ranging from dynamite to fireworks were unclear.
Officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said the new law would require background checks on about 20,000 people, roughly twice the number required before passage of the law.
Fireworks Industry Worried About Fourth
In a USA Today story of April 21, 2003, Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association was quoted as saying delays in shipping products by rail placed major Fourth of July Fireworks displays in jeopardy.
"Nobody anticipated that commerce would stop," Heckman said. "In the name of homeland security, a horrendous amount of new regulations have been put on an industry that is already tightly regulated."
Agencies Urged to Reach Agreement
In his letter, Rep. Sensenbrenner called for regulatory reason. "The Departments of Transportation, Homeland Security, and Justice must work together to implement this law with regard to the transportation of explosives," he wrote. "Each is an integral part of ensuring that the security of these materials in transport is adequately addressed."
Sensenbrenner also defended the importance of the Safe Explosives Act as vital tool in keeping felons, illegal aliens, and others who might "do us harm" from easily obtaining explosives. "Before this legislation passed, it was easier to obtain explosive materials than it was to get a handgun."