South Dakota is suing President Joe Biden's administration for the right to host an Independence Day fireworks display at Mount Rushmore this year after the National Park Service rejected the state's application for a permit to do so.
Gov. Kristi Noem (R) filed the lawsuit Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota Central Division. In a Twitter thread, the governor said Biden's administration departed from precedent "without any meaningful explanation."
"Mount Rushmore is the very best place to celebrate America's birthday and all that makes our country special. Unfortunately, the Biden Administration canceled our Mount Rushmore Fireworks Celebration. So we're suing them to get the fireworks back," Noem wrote.
"After telling us they'd 'circle back,' the Biden Administration has not responded to our request to uphold the Memorandum of Agreement between the State of South Dakota and the National Parks Service to host a safe and responsible national celebration and fireworks show," she continued.
"Unfortunately, the new administration departed from precedent and reneged on this agreement without any meaningful explanation. We're asking the court to enjoin Interior's denial of the fireworks permit and order it to issue a permit for the event expeditiously."
The lawsuit refers to a 2019 memorandum of understanding between South Dakota and the Trump administration's Department of the Interior to continue the annual fireworks display in 2020 and "the years thereafter." It claims that the Biden administration abruptly reneged on this agreement for 2021 without sufficient explanation or discussion of scientific evidence to show that COVID-19 poses a significant health risk to the event, in violation of the law.
In March, NPS Regional Director Herbert Frost wrote a letter to South Dakota Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen informing the state that the National Park Service was "unable to grant a request to have fireworks at the [Mount Rushmore National] Memorial." The letter said that health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and opposition to the fireworks display from "many tribal partners" of the Parks Service were the reasons for the cancellation of 4th of July festivities.
Gov. Noem sent a letter to President Biden on April 13 asking him to reverse the National Park Service's decision, citing his own statements about July 4th being a target date for the nation to fully return to normal after the pandemic and "mark our independence from this virus."
"NPS first outlined health and safety concerns for employees and visitors if fireworks returned this year, focusing specifically on the COVID-19 pandemic and current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. Last year, we hosted more than seven thousand people. Contact tracing weeks after the event could not trace a single case of COVID-19 to the event — in South Dakota or any other state," Noem wrote.
"Moreover COVID-19 vaccination efforts are moving much more quickly than anticipated ... Given the progress we are making as a nation, wouldn't canceling an event months in advance due to COVID concerns fail to recognize both the science and the evidence?"