Balancing the relationship between energy development, consumption and the preservation of the nation’s cultural resources has long been important. The expanding and evolving development and transmission of energy resources over the past 50 years has presented, and continues to present, many potential impacts to historic and cultural resources.
Over the course of the last five decades, large-scale exploration and extraction operations for fossil fuels, including coal mining, oil, and gas, major pipelines and transmission lines, coal-burning power plants and nuclear power plants, and production refineries and terminals have given way to more dispersed energy development and increasing emphasis on renewable energy sources. Construction or modification of large dams and related hydroelectric facilities in certain parts of the country have also shifted to smaller, more incremental upgrades in generating technology and rehabilitation of smaller, older facilities. Advances in energy extraction technology, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and oil shale production, and increased emphasis on solar and wind power generation and natural gas have changed the dynamics of energy development and its potential effects on historic and archaeological resources.
All of this has had an effect on the ACHP’s attention to energy issues and the interactions that the ACHP has had with the energy industry, with other federal, state, and tribal interests, and with a variety of other stakeholders. Over time, the focus has switched from individual project review to programmatic strategies for dealing with potential energy development impacts on large landscapes and numerous historic and cultural assets over multiple states or regions.
The ACHP engaged in lengthy policy discussions with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement of the Department of the Interior about its state surface mining program approvals and reclamation of abandoned mine lands following the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. The ACHP also released a special study in 1979 at Congressional request. Titled “Protection of Natural and Historic Landmarks from Surface Mining Activity,” it focused on the effects of mining in response to the Mining in National Parks Act and outlined threats to landmarks from coal mining and other mining and quarry activities.
In the 1980s and 1990s, large open-pit mining operations such as McKinley Mine in New Mexico, and large pipelines such as the Celeron All American Pipeline from Santa Barbara, California to west Texas, required development of programmatic strategies for identifying and addressing impacts to archaeological sites and traditional cultural properties. During that period, the ACHP also worked intensively with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which was responsible for granting hydroelectric facility licenses and interstate pipeline approvals, on both individual projects and phased programmatic agreements.
Over the years the White House and Congress have made U.S. energy independence a priority with a focus on facilitating and expanding production within our borders, as well as creating the infrastructure to move that energy where it is needed. The ACHP supports these efforts and is committed to advising the administration and other players on energy activities and how they can be planned and executed effectively and efficiently while also being responsive to historic preservation needs.
The current focus on expanding the development and transmission of energy resources presents a variety of potential impacts to historic properties on and off federal lands. These impacts include the direct effects of large-scale land development associated with solar and other renewable energy development on many types of historic properties including historic structures, cultural landscapes, and properties of religious and cultural significance to Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. There are also potential visual intrusions imposed by the construction of wind turbines (as at Cape Wind in Massachusetts) and transmission lines (as at Jamestown on the James River in Virginia).
Federal agencies reviewing or approving these projects are diverse in their missions and the projects typically move on an accelerated time schedule. While technologies vary (for traditional energy production as well as more recent solar, wind, geo-thermal, bio-fuel, and other energy strategies), the challenges for the management of historic properties and completion of the Section 106 process are largely consistent across projects. They include project and compliance process timing, consideration of alternatives for project location and implementation, consultation with Indian tribes and other interested parties, and assessment of impacts on large natural and cultural landscapes.
Coming out of a Tribal Summit on Renewable Energy held in California in 2011 (cosponsored by the ACHP and the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers), the ACHP and BLM established the Western Renewable Energy and Historic Preservation Work Group to focus on the cultural resource challenges of energy projects and transmission in the west. Soon thereafter, the ACHP reviewed a major case involving offshore wind power development and oil and gas development—the Cape Wind wind turbine array in Nantucket Sound near Cape Cod, Massachusetts—that would affect a variety of resources including traditional cultural landscapes important to tribes. In 2013 the ACHP worked with the Council on Environment Quality to produce the Handbook on Integrating NEPA and the NHPA as well as an applicant tool kit for energy development and transmission projects, and in 2015 the ACHP offered the unusual advice to cancel oil and gas leases that would affect significant cultural areas in the Badger Two-Medicine Area in Montana (ultimately the leases were in fact canceled by the Departments of Agriculture and Interior).
More recently, in 2016, the ACHP participated in a series of meetings and listening sessions hosted by the Departments of the Interior and Justice and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to gather input from Indian tribes on federal infrastructure decisions in response to widespread concerns regarding the federal approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. A report on “Improving Tribal Consultation and Tribal Input in Federal Infrastructure Decisions” was issued by Interior, Justice, and the Corps in January 2017. In May 2017, the ACHP issued its own report on “Improving Tribal Consultation in Infrastructure Projects.”
The ACHP serves as a member of the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC), which is looking at a wide range of infrastructure improvement projects including those related to energy development. In this role, the ACHP is working to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of reviews carried out under Section 106 and help federal agencies, applicants for federal permits and assistance, SHPOs/THPOs, Indian tribes, and other Section 106 participants find ways that infrastructure development and preservation of our nation’s important historic places can be accomplished together. Toward that end, in 2017 the ACHP created a new web page devoted to infrastructure which can be found here.