Coalition for American Heritage
The Coalition for American Heritage calls for public support to safeguard historic preservation efforts that are being threatened by proposed changes that govern nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.
“Last month, the National Park Service (NPS) proposed rules that would give federal agencies the power to block National Register listings and eligibility determinations of federally owned properties,” said Marion Werkheiser, policy director for the Coalition. “Additionally, large landowners would have the ability to block historic district and property listings.”
“These changes are designed to allow mining and energy developers to block National Register listings that encompass large-scale landscapes, such as those in Alaska and the western United States that are culturally significant to Native Americans,” she added.
The proposed rule would limit the ability for State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs), Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs), organizations, and communities to nominate properties on federal land. It would also prioritize large landowners and allow them to have veto power over listing historic districts in their property, undercutting the will of the majority of property owners.
The National Historic Preservation Act requires each federal agency to identify and assess the effects its actions may have on historic buildings, and to consider public views and concerns about historic preservation when making final decisions.
When developing this rule, the National Park Service did not consult with entities who commonly nominate properties to the National Register – such as tribes, State Historic Preservation Officers, or other federal agencies, including the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation – for input.
Werkheiser noted, “These changes would make the nomination process for the National Register vulnerable to political pressure and undermine the power of State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. Under such rules, only a federal agency would have the ability to submit nominations of federal properties to the Keeper of the National Register.”
“Simply put, this is federal overreach.”
Congress passed amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 2016 with the goal of soliciting more input from State Historic Preservation Officers on federal nominations and making the review process more efficient. The revised regulations would cause delays in the Section 106 process because a federal agency would have the ability to prevent the Keeper from determining the eligibility of federal properties for the National Register.
“The National Register protects and encourages the preservation of America’s historic and archeological resources, and it provides local communities the opportunity to provide input into projects that affect them,” Werkheiser pointed out. “If these regulations go through, it will strip the voices of the American people.”
“We are asking the National Park Service to enlist the expertise of professionals to develop regulations that are consistent with the intent Congress set forth in the NHPA and longstanding commitment to historic preservation.”
The public commenting period is open until April 30, 2019. Comments can be submitted on the Federal Register website here.
About the Coalition for American Heritage
The Coalition for American Heritage is a nonprofit comprised of more than 350,000 heritage professionals, scholars, small businesses, non-profit groups, and history-lovers from across the country who work together to support and promote our nation’s commitment to historic preservation.
It is founded and funded by the following Leadership Council organizations: the American Cultural and Resources Association, Society for Historical Archaeology, American Anthropological Association and Society for American Archaeology. Learn more at heritagecoalition.org.