The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

Shaping National Preservation Policy

Energy Development

Ensuring that energy development is balanced with its impacts on cultural resources.

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.

Want to explore this topic further? Check out these original documents and interviews with key players from the ACHP archive!


Tom King – Written

“[Regarding balancing energy development and historic preservation], the regulations prescribe a process; there is no “right balance” for them to strike.

The overall system by which the impacts of energy (and other) projects on historic places and other aspects of the environment by no means strikes a ‘right’ balance, because it’s fatally weighted in favor of development at the expense of the public.” Read more

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

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