Rocket Propellant Case Goes Boom

For those of you rocket hobbyists who love the smell of APCP in the morning, or have been following the legal battle over the classification by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) of the popular propellant for solid-propulsion model rockets, ammonium perchlorate composite propellant (APCP) as an "explosive" under 18 U.S.C. § 841(d), last Friday the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the bureau "has neither laid out a concrete standard for classifying materials along the burn-deflagrate-detonate continuum, nor offered data specific to the burn speed of APCP when used for its 'common or primary purpose.' On this record, the agency's decision cannot withstand judicial review."

I did not see the briefs for the Bureau but I just read the appellate court's opinion --
Tripoli Rocketry Association, Inc. and National Association of Rocketry v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- and it appears quite well-reasoned.

Thanks to Clark Lindsey, scientist and honorary appellate lawyer, for first covering this news on
HobbySpace. ;)

And Rand Simberg has a good essay, circa Fourth of July 2003, overviewing (and quite stylishly, at that) the issue of APCP regulation. And here is an Alan Boyle background article on point.

For now, SLP lights off some digital fireworks in congratulations on good, tenacious lawyering by Egan, Fitzpatrick, Malsch & Cynkar, PLLC for the National Association of Rocketry.

Keep in mind the appellate court here has sent the case back to the district court with instructions to remand the matter to the agency:

"ATFE’s authority to designate deflagrating materials as explosives under § 841(d) is undisputed by appellants. But for the agency to so designate a particular material, APCP, it must establish that it is indeed a deflagrating substance. In this case, the agency has articulated no standard whatsoever for determining when a material deflagrates. We therefore remand the case so that ATFE may reconsider the matter and offer a coherent explanation for whatever conclusion it ultimately reaches. Because ATFE’s designation of APCP as an explosive was in place long before the present challenge, we will not vacate the designation without first affording the agency an opportunity to reconsider this matter. The case is hereby remanded to the District Court with instructions to remand the case to the agency for further consideration consistent with this decision."
More litigation may follow.

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