The title of this article is actually the title of another article by a different author; however, it should set off alarm bells for the fireworks industry. While other industries have been similarly targeted, in my opinion only highly-capitalized and centralized industries (such as oil companies) with an ability to tap vast unnatural resources (e.g., legal, publicists, political, scientific) are able to absorb the costs required to successfully defeat the relentless attacks, nationwide, of environmental groups and, inevitably, the plaintiff’s bar.
It is obvious to even the casual observer that fireworks and any adverse impact upon the environment continues to be a topic of hot debate, with the number of interested parties only rising. The line of this debate is aptly illustrated by two recent reports, each from separate coastlines.
On the east coast, in New York, a study commissioned by the Lake George Alliance found that fireworks appeared to have no measurable effects on Lake George’s water quality. During the summer, the village sponsors weekly fireworks displays over the lake, which also hosts an active recreational boating and bathing population; consequently, concerns were raised about pollutants from fireworks. The study offers favorable results that in some measure can be used, together with other studies, to form a baseline for industry reference and use.
On the west coast, environmental activists renewed efforts to, this time, stop San Diego from conducting a holiday fireworks display, citing wrongful emissions of pollutants without a valid permit (to discharge it into the underlying body of water). The fireworks industry’s struggle in San Diego, as well as throughout California, is legendary, widespread and growing; and one should be mindful that California is, oftentimes, a harbinger of things to come in terms of new legislation, regulation and judicial interpretation.
The variety of lawsuit commonly relied upon by environmental groups are sometimes referred to as ‘strike suits’; but, regardless of the label, the complaining party routinely requests that the court issue an injunction; presumably, as part of an effort to delay or prevent the event or, alternatively, diminish the event’s popularity. To this variety of litigant, obtaining an injunction is far more preferable that money damages. Meaning, for the present time, the complaining party is not in it for the money but, rather, for change (in industry practices or, separately, regulatory change).
To date, environmental groups have, seemingly, had more success in the court of public opinion than in any courtroom, but it may only be a matter of time before advances in science and technology result in courtroom success, as well. My suspicion is that if finely-tuned arguments successfully merge with legislation or common-law principles, court victories will likely be forthcoming. Taken to the next logical step, once it is widely-known that legitimate and valid environmental claims can be successfully asserted against persons, it will only be a matter of time before the plaintiff’s bar enters the picture to continue the attacks; unlike environmentalists, this variety of litigant is in it only for the money.
Given the commonality of the environmental claims being asserted, it behooves the industry to establish a rapid response team of professionals, publicists and experts to generate arguments and protocols required to uniformly fend off the impending legal applications, especially lawsuits seeking immediate injunctive relief. As a rule, the requesting party has the element of surprise, and requests for injunctions are expedited matters that present unprepared and untrained counsel with issues that are extremely difficult to overcome on the run. This advantage can be neutralized by thorough preparation. In this sense, the title ‘Fireworks v. Environment?’ is, in my opinion, another call to arms to the fireworks industry.