The Big Bang theory of regulation: The Obama administration cuts a great American rite some slack


 If you're a Republican, or a Democratic Wall Street executive receiving bailout funds and fretting over compensation, be informed that there are limits to Obama administration cravings for stiffer regulation. You'll be especially pleased if you love July 4th fireworks.


The Federal Register, which is the most alluring and largely unread document in English, informs us that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, has a very important request from the American Pyrotechnics Association, best known to five or six citizens as the APA.


It's applied for a limited exemption from rules that drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) can't drive after "the 14th hour after coming on duty." This exemption would apply just to the driving of CMVs by employees of 14 companies involved with staffing fireworks shows celebrating Independence Day during the periods of June 28-July 8, 2009, and June 28-July 8, 2010.


 During these two periods rife with patriotic fervor, "the approximately 100 CMV drivers employed by these 14 APA motor carriers in conjunction with staging fireworks shows would be allowed to exclude off-duty and sleeper-berth time of any length from the calculation of the 14 hours. "


These drivers are said to be "trained pyro-technicians holding a commercial driver's license (CDL)." The government concedes they transport the fireworks "on a very demanding schedule, often to remote locations." When they arrive, they set-up and stage the shows. There's no mention of stashing six-packs, marijuana joints or any pharmaceuticals under a passenger seat, just to relieve a certain holiday stress.


The Bush administration granted this same exemption to 70 trucking companies in 2007 and 2008 and the government "is not aware of any adverse safety events related to APA operations during these periods." The association is simultaneously seeking renewal of that earlier exemption for 61 companies.


So what exactly is the underlying policy imperative here?


The association "is seeking this exemption because compliance with the current 14-hour rule by its members during these two 11-day periods would impose a substantial economic hardship on numerous cities, towns and municipalities, as well as the APA companies. To meet the demand for fireworks under the current [hours of service] rules, APA asserts that is member companies would be required to hire a second driver for most trips."


"The result would be a substantial increase in the cost of the fireworks shows---beyond the means of many of APA's customers---and would deny many Americans this important component of their Independence Day celebration."


There's a good deal more, and it involves the drivers transporting the fireworks in the early morning when traffic is light; then installing, wiring, and safety-checking the displays; then getting a little rest; and returning home, very late and thus avoiding lots of traffic, after the shows.


Well, I may be watching fireworks in bucolic Charlevoix, Mich., this holiday and I applaud the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration if this exemption facilitates the festivities there.


Of course, I'll reconsider if I hear a loud crash hours after they end and the town's gone to bed; the noise perhaps prompted by an unscheduled aerial extravaganza over some two-lane road, with a truck wrapped around a pole and an exhausted trained pyro-technician fast asleep.


Even then, I'll probably blame Thomas Jefferson. After all, he was prime author of a document inspiring this regulatory flexibility.


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James Warren is the Chicago editor of the Daily Beast/Newsweek and an MSNBC analyst. He's former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune. More

James Warren is a former manager, editor and Washington bureau chief of The Chicago Tribune. An ink-stained wretch, he's labored at The Newark Star-Ledger, The Chicago Sun-Times, and the Tribune in a variety of positions, including financial reporter, legal affairs reporter-columnist, labor writer, media writer-columnist and features editor. The Washingtonian once tagged him one of the town's 50 most influential journalists (he thinks he was 46, the number worn by Andy Pettitte, a pitcher for his beloved New York Yankees). He's a political analyst for MSNBC. He was recently publisher and president of the Chicago Reader, and is now policy columnist for Business Week and twice-a-week Chicago columnist for The New York Times (you can find his handiwork on the paper's website and on new Chicago pages produced for Friday's and Sunday's Midwest print editions by the nonprofit Chicago News Cooperative, which he held to start). A native New Yorker, he's a happy resident of the wonderful, if ethically challenged, City of Chicago, where he lives just north of decaying Wrigley Field with his Pulitzer Prize-winning wife, Cornelia, and their sons, Blair and Eliot. Blair's t-ball team is, yes, the Yankees.

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