Despite the highly polarized political environment, Congress is making progress on funding bills and legislation relevant to the historic preservation community. Read on for a roundup of current bills and advocacy efforts. To receive regular updates from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s government relations team, click here to sign up for our new monthly newsletter.
House and Senate Appropriations Bills
On June 6 the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY19 Interior Appropriations Bill, which largely rejects drastic cuts proposed by the administration. The Senate Appropriations Committee is considering its version of the bill this week. We are optimistic and working hard to build on FY18 successes. Committee approval is an important but early step in the appropriations process, and though the new fiscal year will begin on October 1, enacting appropriations by that deadline has become increasingly rare.
This spring the National Trust submitted testimony to both the Senate and House appropriations committees outlining recommended funding levels for key preservation programs. The testimony focused on the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), historic assets and programs within the National Park Service (NPS), cultural resources within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and other important programs.
HPF in Focus
In addition to submitting testimony, in April the National Trust joined with eight other national preservation organizations to send a letter to the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee making the case for an increased allocation for the HPF. The letter outlines a $110.5 million request for the HPF—a roughly 15 percent increase over last year’s historic funding level of $96.9 million. Within HPF funding, we recommend increases for state historic preservation officers and tribal historic preservation officers, including for new competitive grant programs to survey and digitize America’s historic and cultural resources. We also recommend small increases for the Save America’s Treasures program and competitive grants to document, interpret, and preserve historical sites associated with the Civil Rights Movement. The letter advocates maintaining funding for communities underrepresented on the National Register of Historic Places as well as funding preservation grants to revitalize historic properties of national, state, and local significance. These requests were mirrored in a bipartisan letter signed by 29 senators.
The National Trust also teamed up with the American Architectural Foundation, as well as 21 other organizations, on a letter specifically requesting $15 million for the Save America’s Treasures program, which provides competitive grants for the preservation of nationally significant sites, structures, and artifacts.
In its bill, the House Appropriations Committee included $91.9 million for the HPF, $5 million less than last year’s record-setting level. The legislation would maintain grant programs for Save America’s Treasures, competitive grants for underrepresented communities, Civil Rights sites, and historically black colleges and universities at current funding levels. However, it would not continue to fund the $5 million grant program for revitalizing historic properties of national, state, and local significance that was created last year. The version of the bill being considered in the Senate Appropriations Committee this week includes $88.9 million for the HPF.
Historic and Cultural Resources on Public Lands
The public lands that land management agencies oversee contain countless historic and cultural resources. The National Trust has worked to increase funding for the NPS and BLM accounts that help steward these resources and landscapes.
The House bill would provide increased funding for operations of the national park system, including robust funding for the cyclic maintenance account and the repair and rehabilitation account, both of which help address the deferred maintenance backlog in our national parks. It would also provide level funding for cultural resources management and the National Conservation Lands at the BLM. Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) activities would receive $360 million, a cut from the FY18 level of $425 million. LWCF activities would remain level at $425 million in the version of the bill currently being considered in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Senate Bill to Protect Greater Chaco Landscape
On May 22 New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act (S. 2907). The bill would withdraw 316,000 acres of federal lands around Chaco Canyon from future mineral leasing and development.
With the administration’s push for “energy dominance” on our public lands and with continued advancements in drilling technology, the Greater Chaco Landscape is facing new and increasing pressures. Late last year, when the administration proposed a lease sale that included parcels within greater Chaco, the National Trust formally protested. While the Department of the Interior granted a temporary reprieve by postponing the sale, the landscape and its resources need permanent protection. The National Trust applauds Sens. Udall and Heinrich for their leadership in working with the All Pueblo Council of Governors and Navajo Nation on legislation that would withdraw federal lands from future leasing.
Reconstruction Era National Historical Park Act in the House
In April Reps. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., and Mark Sanford, R-S.C., introduced legislation (H.R. 5532) to redesignate the Reconstruction Era National Monument as a national historical park and expand its boundaries. The legislation would also establish a Reconstruction Era National Historic Network, creating partnerships and programming to enhance public understanding of this important era in American history.
The Reconstruction Era National Monument, established in January 2017, spans five sites across Beaufort County, South Carolina. The new legislation would expand the monument’s boundary to include historically relevant places in the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District, on St. Helena Island, and at Camp Saxton. This expansion would further illuminate the successes and struggles of African Americans in the decades following the Civil War.
National Trust President and CEO Stephanie Meeks wrote to Rep. Clyburn to thank him for his leadership on the issue. The National Trust also joined with more than 50 organizations to endorse the bill.
House Legislation to Designate Route 66 National Historic Trail
On June 6 the House of Representatives passed legislation to designate the Route 66 National Historic Trail, which the National Trust has endorsed.
Janelle DiLuccia is the associate director of public lands policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.