National Historic Preservation Act
With passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1966, Congress made the federal government a full partner and a leader in historic preservation. In the words of the NHPA, the federal government's role is to "provide leadership" for preservation, "contribute to" and "give maximum encouragement" to preservation, and "foster conditions under which our modern society and our prehistoric and historic resources can exist in productive harmony." Indeed, an underlying motivation for passage of the NHPA was to transform the federal government from an agent of indifference, frequently responsible for needless loss of historic resources, to a facilitator, an agent of thoughtful change, and a responsible steward for future generations.
The ACHP was created by the NHPA, as was the "Section 106 process." Section 106 of the NHPA requires that federal agencies take into account the effects of their actions on historic properties and give the ACHP an opportunity to comment on any effects. The ACHP has issued regulations that guide how agencies should fulfill this responsibility.
ACHP Advises Congress
One of the ACHP's primary statutory responsibilities is to advise the President and Congress on historic preservation matters. A key way of fulfilling this responsibility is to comment on pending legislation. At its March 2023 meeting, the ACHP approved a set of priorities that the agency will focus on when offering advice to the 118th Congress on actions affecting the nation’s historic properties. These priorities are:
- Supporting preservation-friendly programs and funding
- Reauthorizing, making permanent, and increasing the Historic Preservation Fund
- Promoting consideration of historic properties in the federal response to climate change, as discussed in the ACHP’s [draft] Climate Change and Historic Preservation Policy Statement
- Supporting designation or protection of historic properties that reflect the full American story and discouraging proposals that would destroy or diminish diverse histories
- Supporting preservation of historic properties in community development, including in creation of affordable housing
- Maintaining and enhancing tax incentives for historic preservation
- Balancing regulatory/permitting reform and streamlining with protection of historic properties
- Digitizing and mapping known resources subject to Section 106 processes, and expanding survey work of unknown/undocumented resources
- Addressing the impacts of accelerated infrastructure development on historic properties
- Fostering stewardship of historic properties on federal lands or under federal management.
Other Federal Preservation Legislation
While the National Historic Preservation Act is the most comprehensive federal law dealing with historic preservation, there are numerous other statutes that relate to various aspects of the federal historic preservation program. These range from the protection of archaeological sites on Federal lands, to the recognition of properties of traditional cultural or religious significance to Native Americans, to protection of historic shipwrecks. For a full list of these laws, visit the National Park Service's web page, Federal Historic Preservation Laws, Regulations, and Orders.