Energy & Environment

Noem sues Biden administration over rejection of Mount Rushmore fireworks

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) on Friday sued the Biden administration over its decision not to allow Independence Day fireworks at Mount Rushmore this year.

"Mount Rushmore is the very best place to celebrate America's birthday and all that makes our country special," Noem said in a statement announcing the suit. "We are asking the court to enjoin the Department of Interior's (DOI) denial of the fireworks permit and order it to issue a permit for the event expeditiously."

An Interior Department spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The Hill first reported in March that the National Park Service (NPS) had rejected the state's request to hold fireworks at the national memorial, citing health risks, including those associated with the coronavirus pandemic, and opposition from Native American tribes.

"Potential risks to the park itself and to the health and safety of employees and visitors associated with the fireworks demonstration continue to be a concern and are still being evaluated as a result of the 2020 event," NPS regional director Herbert Frost wrote at the time. "In addition, the park's many tribal partners expressly oppose fireworks at the Memorial."

"These factors, compiled with the COVID-19 pandemic, do not allow a safe and responsible fireworks display to be held at this site," he added.

Noem's lawsuit, first reported by Fox News, characterized that letter as containing "a patchwork of vague and speculative purported concerns."

"The letter made no attempt to quantify or otherwise characterize the risk level for this year's planned event or how it differed from the risk level for the exact same event last year, which [the Interior Department] approved," it said.  

Critics of the department's move have also pointed to March remarks by President Biden in which he said he hoped to get the country closer to normal by July 4. 

"By July the Fourth there's a good chance your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day," he said at the time.

Fireworks returned to Mount Rushmore for an Independence Day celebration last year for the first time since 2009. They had previously been canceled due to wildfire risks.

Former President Trump gave a speech at last year's celebration, an event where social distancing and mask-wearing were not enforced.

About 3,700 people attended that speech, according to multiple reports.

Last month, Noem spokesperson Ian Fury told The Hill that Noem, who is seen as a potential presidential contender for 2024, would do "everything in her ability to ensure that we can celebrate America's birthday with fireworks at Mount Rushmore."

Updated: 1 p.m.

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