June 14, 2012
San Diego-based partner Robert Howard is representing the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation in the first-in-the-nation challenge to fireworks displays using state and federal environmental laws. The La Jolla community’s annual Independence Day fireworks display is the first in the United States to have been awarded a permit under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
What is the nature of the legal challenges facing the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation and its annual July 4th celebrations?
Howard: We’ve been representing the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation for the past three Independence Day celebrations. A local environmental group has been trying to stop fireworks displays near water bodies on the grounds that they present an environmental hazard. The group also contends that fireworks shows should undergo extensive environmental reviews — similar to what one would do to build a road, building or airport — before a city authorizes a permit to perform a once-a-year fireworks show. These issues are now on appeal to the California Court of Appeals.
Why did you decide to get involved with this issue?
Howard: I reached out because I’ve been to the La Jolla fireworks show in the past, and I’m a military veteran who feels strongly about our civic traditions.
How are you helping to strike a balance between the community’s desire to hold July 4th fireworks celebrations with state and federal environmental laws?
Howard: We’ve been able to successfully show that fireworks shows over water — be it in San Francisco, Boston, New York, or in Washington, D.C. right by EPA’s headquarters and on the Potomac River — do not pose an environmental risk to water bodies. We obtained every study in the country that pertained to fireworks, including research from SeaWorld in San Diego, which puts on 100 fireworks shows a year.
What sort of best management practices has La Jolla implemented as part of its annual fireworks displays?
Howard: The event’s Clean Water Act permit requires certain best management practices, and one of them is to clean up the trash after the fireworks. What we do in La Jolla is have kayakers and boaters go along the coast after the show and pick up the debris — whether it’s from the spectators or the fireworks. La Jollans are hypersensitive about their coastline.
What advice can you share with other cities?
Howard: Municipalities should document and continue to build the body of scientific evidence that firework displays do not cause environmental harm. The application of environmental laws to fireworks is new, so cities would be well advised to continue efforts to evaluate and confirm their displays do not cause adverse water quality impacts.
Firework displays should also follow the best management practices we’ve developed in La Jolla. You don’t have to get rid of the tradition — but you do need to clean up the debris afterwards so that the environment is protected.