On Tuesday, Republican Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem sent a letter to President Biden requesting that he alter his administration’s current prohibition of a fireworks celebration on Independence Day at Mount Rushmore.
Fox News reported that the federal government agreed to allow fireworks to be held at the area last year, but the decision of the Biden administration would reverse that. Noem’s letter referenced a Memorandum of Agreement that had been made with the state to allow fireworks to return to celebrations at Mount Rushmore National Memorial “in a safe and responsible manner.” However, as Noem’s letter explains, the National Park Service (NPS) told the governor last month that it “would be reneging” on the Memorandum of Agreement, citing several concerns.
Noem went on to discuss Biden’s own declarations regarding Fourth of July celebrations, telling him that the letter from NPS “contradicts statements you made in March that held up Independence Day as a target date for Americans to begin returning to normal.”
Noem quoted Biden when he announced:
“[B]y July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families, and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbeque and celebrate Independence Day. …After this long hard year, that will make this Independence Day something truly special, where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.”
Noem’s letter stated that NPS listed certain safety concerns centering around the COVID-19 pandemic for visitors and workers if fireworks were permitted this year. However, Noem explained that no cases of COVID-19 were linked to last year’s event after they had more than 7,000 people attend. She also pointed to vaccination efforts, saying that over 50% of South Dakotans have gotten at least their first shot of a vaccine.
“We believe this was part of the inspiration for your optimistic statements,” she wrote. “Given the progress we are making as a nation, wouldn’t canceling an event that months in advance due to COVID concerns fail to recognize both the science and the evidence?”
The governor also addressed concerns that NPS cited over tribal issues or environmental dangers. Noem stated that tribes were consulted prior to last year’s event and “South Dakota’s Department of Tribal Relations was involved in every step of the process,” adding that tribal leaders would be consulted this year and invited to the celebration. She also acknowledged that environmental factors are taken into account during the planning process, and in 2002 the event was not held because of environmental conditions. She pointed out that last year, NPS put out a Finding of No Significant Impact that stated “the event would not harm the natural environment of the Black Hills.”
Noem also took to Twitter to voice her request. She tweeted a picture of Mount Rushmore during a fireworks celebration and quoted President Biden with the caption, “What better way to celebrate America’s birthday and our ‘Independence from this virus’?”
What better way to celebrate America's birthday and our "Independence from this virus"? pic.twitter.com/DoM6EiyD1I
— Governor Kristi Noem (@govkristinoem) April 13, 2021
Noem concluded her letter, writing, “We are committed to hosting a Mount Rushmore Fireworks Celebration that is safe and responsible and working closely with NPS to do so. I respectfully ask that you continue that hopeful message you shared earlier this month and uphold our Agreement to host the event this year.”