The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) is the cornerstone of historic preservation at the Federal level in the United States. The law establishes a Federal policy of stewardship of historic places, explaining that "the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in our historic heritage," and that this heritage should be preserved as part of our community life. The Act goes on to state that the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest and there must be mechanisms in place to preserve this heritage in the face of development and growth, particularly when they are linked to federal actions.
The NHPA clearly states that Congress’s primary objective is to achieve a balance between historic preservation and development.
It shall be the policy of the Federal Government … to … use measures, including financial and technical assistance, to foster conditions under which our modern society and our prehistoric and historic resources can exist in productive harmony …. (National Historic Preservation Act, Section 2)
Compliance with Section 106 of NHPA is a critical requirement of Federal transportation projects. This section of the law, as its implementing regulation, 36 CFR 800, notes, "seeks to accommodate historic preservation concerns with the needs of Federal undertakings through consultation among the agency official and other parties with an interest in the effects of the undertaking on historic properties…." (36 CFR 800.1(a))
As can be seen in this quote from the regulation, consultation is at the heart of the Section 106 process. Consultation is a “process of seeking, discussing, and considering the views of other participants, and, where feasible, seeking agreement with them regarding matters arising in the section 106 process” (36 CFR 800.16(f).
In addition to the NHPA, there are other important laws and regulations that address historic preservation issues and federal projects. These include:
- Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act
- National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)
- Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA)
- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA)
Information on the National Environmental Policy Act can be found in the NEPA Process section of this website. Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act and its relationship with Section 106 is briefly described below. ARPA and NAGPRA, for the most part, apply to actions on federal and tribal lands. Transportation projects located on federal or tribal lands, therefore, must comply with these laws and their implementing regulations. Information on these two latter laws is provided in the ARPA regulation and the NAGPRA regulation.