Tuesday, May 27, 2014

National Historic Preservation Act Diluted as Congress Adopts Military LAND Act, Opposed by Department of Defense

The Military Land and National Defense Act, more commonly known as the Military LAND Act, diminishes historic preservation. Immediately before the Memorial Day weekend, the House of Representative voted 325-98 to approve the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015. That bill included the Military LAND Act, which is opposed by the defense department.

If enacted into law, the Military LAND Act would dilute the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by allowing a federal agency head to single-handedly block an historic property from being classified as a culturally protected site.

The bill specifically would require the Secretary of the Interior to alert the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources anytime a federally owned property is reviewed for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places for designation as a National Historic Landmark or for nomination to the World Heritage List.  Items that qualify would include those that are significant to American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture. The bill would allow the head of any federal agency managing historic properties to object on the grounds of national security.

Maureen Sullivan of the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) and the Secretary of Defense’s representative to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation told Congress that the NHPA has been working for the U.S. military. “We do not … believe that H.R. 3687 [the Military LAND Act] is currently needed to preserve our access to the lands we need to test and train,” she said. Sullivan testified:
The National Historic Preservation Act, as currently enacted, supports the warfighter by preserving our ability to effectively use our lands and built environment to support needed testing and training. The Act also protects the quality of life for our military men and women, their families, and the public by facilitating a strong connection to our shared history, culture, and traditions. Finally, it promotes efficiencies by encouraging partnerships with national, state, regional, tribal, and local agencies and organizations. 
The National Historic Preservation Act provides the foundation for the Department of Defense’s Cultural Resources Management Program. For almost 50 years, the Act has proven instrumental in helping our installations develop cooperative plans and projects that have benefited cultural resources on military lands and facilitated our mission. The current regulations implementing the Act, as well as the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark nomination processes, work well for DoD. Although managing the Department’s large inventory of historic properties requires vigilance, we have not found compliance with the NHPA to be an impediment to our ability to meet our military readiness obligations.
Lawmakers adopted the NHPA in 1966 and, forty years later, President George W. Bush enacted fresh amendments. First Lady Laura Bush marked the anniversary in 2006 at the Preserve America Summit by expressing support for preserving America’s heritage, characterizing it as the “soul of the United States.” The NHPA is one of several legislative descendants of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Antiquities Act of 1906.

Having been passed by the House, the Military LAND Act now will be considered by the Senate.

Photo credit: Ben Shafer

By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2010-2014 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT INFORMATION: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com