Federal Preservation Laws

A collection of statutes and regulations have been adopted at the federal level which address government activities and policies regarding historic and archeological resources.

The most important of these laws is the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), which, among other things, provides for the expansion and maintenance of the National Register of Historic Places, a comprehensive list of significant historic resources, and establishes a process, referred to as the Section 106 Review Process, that requires federal agencies to consider the effect of their actions on historic properties.

Other significant statutes governing federal agency actions affecting historic properties include the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. NEPA requires federal agencies to undergo an environmental review process when a major federal action significantly affects the quality of the human environment, which includes historic resources. Section 4(f) provides that the Department of Transportation cannot use historic sites (interpreted to apply to both direct and indirect effects on historic sites), unless (1) there is "no prudent and feasible alternative to the project," and (2) the project includes "all possible planning to minimize harm."

Finally, there are additional statutes and regulations that offer some level of protection for specific types of resources, such as the Archeological Resources Protection Act, the Historic Shipwrecks Act, and laws governing publicly-owned federal buildings, as well as specific types of activities, such as the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

Quick Links

Use these links and our federal laws at a glance chart to learn more about federal-level laws, resources and review processes: