Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mom, apple pie, and... clean water?

Did you enjoy watching fireworks yesterday?  I watched an impressive display over San Diego Bay.  But in late May, it looked like San Diego might not have fireworks.  In a case filed by the local environmental group Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF, pronounced “surf”), a judge had ruled that the fireworks show in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla required an environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  And because it wasn’t just the La Jolla fireworks that hadn’t prepared an environmental impact report, the ruling put a bunch of fireworks displays in San Diego into legal limbo. 

You might ask: what exactly are the environmental impacts of fireworks? Well we don’t really know, and that is of course part of why CERF was successful in its argument that environmental review was needed.   In general, environmentalists are concerned about pollution impacts. As detailed here, fireworks are made with lots of toxic chemicals including charcoal, sulfur fuel, potassium nitrate, perchlorates, strontium (to make red), aluminum (white), copper (blue), barium (green) and cadmium (various colors).  In La Jolla, there is particular concern about the effects on local marine life.  The lawsuit alleges threats to seals, birds and other coastal wildlife.

Now consider the political ramifications of having a judge agree with environmentalists that the local fireworks displays would be illegal. With a national audience provided by Fox news, San Diego's mayor called the ruling an “abuse of the laws” and said it could affect fireworks displays in other parts of the country.  And just a week later, the judge stayed the ruling for 90 days, and this year’s fireworks were allowed to go on. 

Is it unpatriotic to challenge fireworks displays?  The lawyer in the case, Marco Gonzalez, has taken a lot of heat for it.  I like his response:  he says it is patriotic to protect water quality and marine species.  

- Lesley McAllister

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