Energy & Environment

Judge rebuffs Noem’s bid for July 4th fireworks at Mount Rushmore

A federal judge in South Dakota on Wednesday denied a bid by the state’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem to hold a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore to celebrate Independence Day after her request for a permit was denied by the Biden administration.

In a 36-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange declined to enter a preliminary judgment in Noem’s favor, finding that her suit against federal officials was unlikely to ultimately prevail.

“This Court fully understands the State’s position and why this suit was brought,” wrote Lange, an Obama nominee. “But under governing law, the State is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its claims and has not met the requirements” for interim legal relief.

Specifically, he determined that the denial was not “arbitrary and capricious” as the state contended because he said reasons given for the denial were not irrational or particularly implausible. 

He also wrote that while the government was required to explain its difference in opinion between approving fireworks last year and denying them this year, officials did acknowledge the prior event and explained how problems related to it factored into their decision.

Lange wrote that if the situation had been reversed, and a group was seeking to block a permit issued by the National Park Service (NPS) for such a display “this Court almost certainly would have denied a preliminary injunction to any group seeking to prohibit such a display from occurring.”

Noem, who is seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate, had asked the court to temporarily halt a decision by the Biden administration to reject the state’s request for the fireworks display.

The governor said in a statement that she’d appeal the ruling. 

“I am disappointed that the court gave cover to this unlawful action with today’s decision. But rest assured, this fight is not over,” Noem said. 

“My legal team will appeal this incorrect decision so that we can return the Fireworks Celebration to Mount Rushmore and celebrate our nation’s birthday at America’s Shrine to Democracy for next year and in the future,” she added. 

In the administration’s rejection of the state’s request, which was first reported by The Hill, it cited health risks, including those associated with the coronavirus pandemic, and respecting 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.

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

At the time of last year’s event, former President Trump gave a speech, and social distancing and mask wearing were not enforced.

Updated at 5:25 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Independence Day Kristi Noem Mount Rushmore

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