PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has filed a lawsuit against Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland over National Park Service officials' decision to not shoot fireworks off at Mount Rushmore this coming Independence Day.
The lawsuit, which Noem's staff says will be filed on Friday, April 30, in U.S. District Court in Pierre, S.D., invokes past fireworks celebrations and words from Founding Father John Adams about "bonfires" and "bells" on the nation's Fourth of July.
But Noem's attorneys' legal argument focuses primarily on the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that the Biden administration made an "arbitrary and capricious" decision when pulling the pyrotechnic show from the Black Hills granite sculpture.
Citing the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court Case, Dept. of Homeland Security v. Regents of U of California, in which the justices overturned the Trump administration's ending of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program, Noem's general counsel Katie Hruska and Mark Miller argue that DOI's canceling of fireworks at the memorial must be "justified by a reasoned explanation."
Moreover, say the state attorneys, Congress hasn't specified the "guardrails" needed for the Interior Department to exercise proper regulation.
"The statute thus allows DOI to issue whatever regulation it pleases," write Hruska and Miller.
Days before Haaland was formally installed as Secretary of Interior, NPS official Herbert Frost wrote to South Dakota Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen announcing that federal authorities determined the fireworks posed "potential risks to the park itself and to the health and safety of employees." He also noted "many tribal partners" were opposed to the fireworks.
A spokesman for DOI told Forum News Service on Friday they will have no comment on the lawsuit.
Two performers in the 2020 fireworks celebration, which featured a campaign-style speech from President Trump, told FNS last month that they both opposed fireworks at Mount Rushmore, which honors four U.S. presidents on land historically partitioned off for the Great Sioux Reservation.
While some wildland fire experts and public health advocates cautioned against holding last year's fireworks, the National Park Service ultimately approved the celebration in 2020 as safe after conducting an environmental assessment.
In Friday's lawsuit, the state attorneys tout the benefits of last year's fireworks to the state's economy, citing $22 million in advertisement for South Dakota, Google searches for "Mount Rushmore" soaring to 1,250% over a previous record, and an "economic lifeline" in the midst of a pandemic that "battered" the state's tourism industry.
Earlier this month, South Dakota's tourism secretary said the industry lost nearly 40% of jobs in 2020.
The state asked the federal court to issue a preliminary injunction to make sure fireworks go ahead as planned according to a memorandum of understanding the state signed with NPS, saying last year's celebration "occurred without incident — as it always has."
According to Wildfire Today, fireworks at Rushmore sparked ten separate fires in 2000, ultimately injuring two firefighters. When federal authorities put the kibosh on fireworks in 2009, they cited 1,200 acres of forest near the monument as more susceptible to fire damage due to an ongoing pine beetle infestation.
Just earlier this month, forest scientists with the U.S. Forest Service announced that fires in the Black Hills had increased over the last 20 years, in part caused by a drying climate, and logging in the region should be limited.
On Friday, the South Dakota Democratic Party posted a tweet calling the lawsuit a "publicity stunt," pointing to an executive order the governor signed four weeks ago declaring "drought conditions" were creating "serious peril" for the state.
Another publicly stunt: Gov. Noem suing the #Biden Administration for fireworks. It took only 4 weeks for Noem to flip-flop against her own state of emergency. South Dakota Families are still grieving & recovering from the loss of the homes in recent fires. #NoemFailure @POTUS pic.twitter.com/2d6n80OUHu— SD Democratic Party (@SoDakDems) April 30, 2021
Noem has planned a media availability at Mount Rushmore National Memorial this coming Monday.