National Historic Preservation Act

Federal Preservation Laws
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Preservation Law 101
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The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), 16 U.S.C. §§ 470a to 470w-6, is the primary federal law governing the preservation of cultural and historic resources in the United States.

The law establishes a national preservation program and a system of procedural protections which encourage the identification and protection of cultural and historic resources of national, state, tribal and local significance. Primary components of the act include:

      • Articulation of a national policy governing the protection of historic and cultural resources.
      • Establishment of a comprehensive program for identifying historic and cultural resources for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
      • Creation of a federal-state/tribal-local partnership for implementing programs established by the act.
      • Requirement that federal agencies take into consideration actions that could adversely affect historic properties listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, known as the Section 106 Review Process.
      • Establishment of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which oversees federal agency responsibilities governing the Section 106 Review Process.
      • Placement of specific stewardship responsibilities on federal agencies for historic properties owned or within their control (Section 110 of the NHPA).

Federal Policy on Historic Preservation

The NHPA recognizes historic preservation as an important policy of the United States and emphasizes the need to provide national leadership in furthering this policy. To that end, the act directs the federal government to actively promote the preservation of historic and prehistoric resources by administering the national preservation program in partnership with state and local governments, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiians, and by helping such entities expand and accelerate their historic programs and activities.

Who's Who

The Secretary of the Department of the Interior, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and individual federal agencies, state agencies, and tribal offices have specific responsibilities under the NHPA.

The Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service (NPS), maintains the National Register of Historic Places and oversees the establishment and operations of state, tribal and certified local government programs under the NHPA. The NPS, on behalf of the Secretary, has established guidelines governing federal agency responsibilities and standards for the preservation of federally owned properties. It also provides technical assistance, operates a comprehensive educational and training program, and administers grants and loans.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), an independent federal agency based in Washington, D.C., oversees Section 106 of the NHPA. This program requires federal agencies to take into consideration the effects of their undertakings, such as the licensing of cell tower or the permitting of a gas exploration project, on properties listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. ACHP also provides advice and assistance to the President, the U.S. Congress, federal agencies, states, tribes, and local governments on historic preservation.

State Historic Preservation Officers, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and Certified Local Governments work in partnership with the federal government in implementing the NHPA. The State Historic Preservation Officer, or SHPO, plays a central role in the administration of NHPA programs and, as a result, serves as the primary point of contract for individuals seeking assistance. The SHPO is responsible for reviewing and processing applications for nominations of historic and cultural properties for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It also assists federal agencies in meeting their obligations under Section 106 and provides direct assistance to local governments through the National Park Service's Certified Local Government Program. Local governments, upon certification by a SHPO, may participate in NHPA programs and are entitled to at least 10% of a state's allocation from the Historic Preservation Fund. A Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, or THPO, is a federally recognized tribe that has officially assumed the responsibilities of a SHPO with respect to "tribal lands."

Learn More

Layperson's Guide to Preservation Law: Federal, State and Local Laws Governing Historic Resources
First published in 1997, this booklet provides a concise and comprehensible guide to federal, state and local laws governing historic resource protection. The 2008 edition includes updated information on transportation issues, eminent domain, easements, the American's with Disabilities Act, and the regulation of historic religious properties.

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