The Rebooting Environmental Compliance (REC) Project: A Clean Slate Approach to Replacing NEPA and Section 106

Suppose that it were possible to do away with U.S. environmental impact assessment laws and regulations, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). We have no more environmental assessments or impact statements, no more Section 106 review, no more State or Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, no more Advisory Council on Historic Preservation or National Register of Historic Places — for simplicity’s sake, suppose everything gets swept away. The possibility of this scenario becoming real has become heightened in today’s political climate, but, rather than fear this scenario, might it be possible to embrace this future and turn it into something decidedly more positive?

What if we were in a position to rebuild a national program of cultural heritage impact assessment and management. What should we do? This is the question that the REC project is exploring with your help.

We don’t think we ought just to put the “old” systems back in place. We ought to recognize that those systems have deficiencies, some of which actually make them more vulnerable than they need be to political attack, while some simply make them not very helpful in protecting the aspects of the environment to which people attach cultural value.

A clean slate approach to rebooting environmental compliance means that the “new” system must be:

  • Inclusive both in terms of the tangible and intangible environmental variables and meanings it addresses and the people, communities, and groups whose values are addressed;
  • Common sense in its approach so that the need for laws, rules, and regulations are minimized or eliminated; the approach must therefore not rely on government oversight bodies unless absolutely neccessary.
  • Consultative – involving open but results-oriented dialogue among participants;
  • Innovative in assessing and documenting the importance of culture and place that moves far beyond the simplistic reliance on only facts, photos, counting, or measuring; such a system must be respectful of the meanings that ordinary citizens hold for their own heritage and culture even if these meanings are in conflict with the values of conventional experts;
  • Implemented in a way that equalizes power between conventional experts and ordinary citizens;
  • Equitable so that consensus is achieved through a process that does not privilege the perspective of conventional experts prior to starting consultation;
  • Simple enough to make it accessible to and usable by ordinary citizens including minimizing or eliminating jargon;
  • Open to use by and for all kinds of citizens;
  • Egalitarian in its treatment of individual people, other life-forms, and communities by honoring diversity and seeking social and environmental justice;
  • Reasonable in terms of time and financial costs imposed on all involved; and
  • Balanced in relation to other needs, values, and priorities.

At the end of 2016, Thomas King created the “Heritage After Trump” (HAT) award asking people to submit their REC ideas. The winners of the award, who received $1,000, were Emily-Kate Hannapel & C. Scott Vann, who are graduate students in the MFA program in Interior Architecture at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. We’ve posted their entry, along with a more detailed description of the contest, here on this site for your reference.

But, we’re not done. We need your help in continuing this discussion. What’s your idea to reboot environmental compliance in the United States? Submit your idea here.

We will be using this site to post proactive, but brief essays that explore REC. These essays, which need to be structured in a way that invites comments in a succinct and direct way are required to be 100 to 800 words in length and be understandable by a broad audience. If you have an idea for one of these essays, submit it here.

Also consider lending your voice to what we should do with the information we are collecting on this REC Project site.

The team members leading the REC project are:

  • Jaime Bach: PhD candidate cultural anthropologist at the University of Montana, specializing in cultural heritage and perceptions of environmental change in Kiribati.
  • Kurt Dongoske: Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Pueblo of Zuni
  • Judy Scott Feldman: Art historian, head of the National Mall Coalition, working to preserve the National Mall in Washington DC as a living historic and cultural landscape
  • Jim Kent: Head of James Kent Associates, specializing in cultural ecology
  • Thomas King: Independent CRM consultant and author of numerous textbooks on CRM practice
  • Claudia Nissley: Former Wyoming SHPO, former head of the ACHP’s (erstwhile) western office in Denver, consultant, trainer and writer specializing in heritage and consultation.
  • Mike Nixon: Attorney specializing in historic preservation, environmental, and tribal law
  • Kurt Russo: Executive Director, Native American Lands Conservancy
  • Jeremy Wells: Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation, Roger Williams University