Forum Bulletin

Preservation Action: An Intro and Update 

08-01-2011 00:00

We are running this spotlight on Preservation Action during its summer membership drive, to encourage support for both Preservation Action and the National Trust—and their collaboration on federal advocacy as national partners.

In 1974, only eight years after the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) that established the national preservation program which still guides our work, a group of visionary individuals met in San Antonio during a meeting of the San Antonio Conservation Society. At the time, there were no federal incentives for historic preservation and there was no mechanism to reliably fund the mandates of the NHPA. There was no federal historic rehabilitation tax credit and there was no such thing as the Historic Preservation Fund. It was clear that in order for the NHPA to reach its potential, preservationists needed a voice on Capitol Hill.

As a result of that meeting, an organization was formed to empower grassroots preservationists from around the country to directly influence federal historic preservation policy. In short, Preservation Action was born. And since that time, its members and staff have been instrumental—along with other national partners—in shaping, defending, and establishing federal historic preservation policy through education, communication, and direct lobbying.

PA believes that the most powerful tool for keeping historic preservation a national priority is an educated constituency. Preservation Action dives into the mechanics of legislation, both existing and proposed, to explain in simple language how federal policies can have a real impact at the local level. It develops tools to help grassroots preservationists take this information and use it—by providing instruction and tips on how to lobby elected officials, how the legislative process works, and when to act.

Regular communication, via PA’s weekly electronic Legislative Update, Action Alerts, and active use of social media, helps to keep members informed about current and upcoming legislative issues relevant to preservation goals. But PA doesn’t stop there. It passes this information on to key legislators, policy staffers, and partner organizations—to spread the word about the importance of federal preservation policy.

When action is necessary, Preservation Action mobilizes its members to make visits to key legislators, to submit testimony on legislation, to comment on proposed rule changes, and to solicit support from their colleagues. Preservation Action also lobbies for its members directly on the Hill. PA meets with congress members, senators, committee staffers, federal agencies, and allied organizations to advocate for a variety of preservation policy issues such as funding, historic tax credits, and the overall structure of the federal historic preservation program.

To help tie it all together, Preservation Action launched Lobby Day in 1976. This annual event brings preservationists from around America to Washington to advocate, network, and develop relationships with elected officials. Also known as “Preservation Advocacy Day,” Preservation Action partners with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, and the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions to engage a broad coalition of preservation advocates.

How is Preservation Action different from the National Trust?

Preservation Action is the only national grassroots organization dedicated entirely to lobbying for federal historic preservation policy. Specifically, although it is a nonprofit organization, it is a 501(c)(4) rather than a traditional (c)(3) like the National Trust. This means it does not have any limitations on the amount of lobbying and advocacy it can do. PA works very closely with the National Trust; the best way to understand the difference is to recognize that PA has a very specific mission that complements the Trust’s broader one.

Why is membership in Preservation Action important?

As a grassroots organization, Preservation Action relies on its membership. Its strength depends upon numbers—the more members it has, the louder its voice. Membership starts at only $20, so it is meant to be accessible to everyone. In addition to communicating directly with its members, PA provides opportunities for members to interact with each other via Caucus, the newly inaugurated members-only web forum. Its annual legislative agenda is driven by its membership, and PA staff is always available to answer questions, listen to concerns, and help make sure members are heard on the Hill.

Preservation Action always stresses the importance of citizens expressing their opinions to their legislators. Believe it or not, legislators want to hear from constituents and appreciate input from them. In fact, legislators and their staff tire of hearing entirely from lobbyists. As a constituent, you can be much more effective in making the case that a national policy issue does, in fact, directly impact a local community. Preservation Action strives to help its members understand the relationship between what is happening on Capitol Hill and what is happening on Main Street. Communicating your concerns to legislators can be as simple as sending an e-mail or making a phone call. To help, the Preservation Action website provides a number of tools, talking points, one-page congressional leave-behinds, lobbying tips, and key committee lists to help even a novice make a positive impression.

What is Preservation Action involved in now?

Here are just a few key issues Preservation Action is working on with members and partner organizations, such as the National Trust:

Protecting federal funding

As we all know, federal budget cuts in FY 2011 resulted in the elimination of funding for the Save America’s Treasures (SAT) and Preserve America (PA) programs, representing a loss of more than $30 million. Fortunately, funding for State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs and THPOs) remained steady at FY 2010 levels. Unfortunately, with Congress in the mood to reduce more spending, funding prospects for FY 2012 are looking grim. While the Administration is supporting modest increases to SHPO and THPO funding levels, the House Committee on Appropriations has sent its FY 2012 Department of the Interior spending bill for consideration by the full House that would, among other things, cut funding for SHPOs and THPOs by another 10 percent, cut funding for Heritage Areas by 50 percent, and cut funding for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation by 8 percent.

In addition to supporting the Administration’s modest increase for SHPOs and THPOs, Preservation Action and its partners have been advocating for another modest appropriation—$9 million to be made available for project grants run through the SHPO offices. With prospects in the House looking very bleak, PA will be mobilizing advocates to garner support in the Senate for preventing cuts on top of the enormous loss from FY 2011.

Expanding and improving tax credits

Preservation Action and its partners are busy advocating for two bills that would greatly enhance and expand the existing federal historic rehabilitation tax credit program. Last month, the Historic Homeownership Revitalization Act, H.R. 2555, was introduced by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) and Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and the Creating American Prosperity through Preservation Act, H.R. 2479, was introduced by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

The former bill would at long last establish a tax credit for homeowners and developers of historic homes that is similar to the historic rehabilitation tax credit now in place for income-producing properties. The latter bill would make improvements to the existing rehab tax credit program and establish a supplement for energy-efficient retrofits.

Right now PA is asking preservationists to contact their congressional representatives to urge them to support and consider co-sponsoring these bills.

Addressing streamlining proposals

With Congress intent on saving money and streamlining programs to make them more efficient and less expensive, it is understandable why a number of bills are being introduced to simplify or overhaul existing rules and regulations. Unfortunately, however, sometimes these changes have consequences. A number of bills are cropping up that would virtually exempt projects from the requirements of the NHPA, or gut the purposes of the Antiquities Act of 1906, to either make projects easier to approve or to prevent interference based on other objectives. As these bills make their way through Congress, PA will need its members to raise their voices to protect our historic resources and to encourage a balance between efficiency and the preservation of our nation’s heritage.

Reviewing the structure of the federal historic preservation program

Last year Preservation Action convened a national task force to study the structure of the components of the federal historic preservation program administered primarily by the National Park Service. Drawing upon several existing studies, 11 national organizations, including the National Trust, joined the task force. This group interviewed more than 50 subject matter experts, held multiple listening sessions, commissioned research, and surveyed more than 800 respondents to develop a list of recommendations to strengthen the effectiveness, visibility, funding, and collaborative ability of the federal preservation program. PA expects shortly to release this report and to announce the establishment of a team that will be charged with strategizing and seeking the implementation of the recommendations.

Preservation Action Needs Your Support

There is always work to be done. To fulfill its mission, and to protect our nation’s preservation program, Preservation Action needs the support of preservation advocates across the country. Now more than ever, with threats not only to preservation funding but to preservation policy, we need a strong, unified, and educated voice. Preservation Action plays a key role in the success of our movement. Consider joining now by visiting

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Author(s):Erik Hein

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