Unprotected Heritage


I found the book Our Unprotected Heritage, written by Thomas F. King, to be quite informative and enjoyable. The first chapter of the book mentions the “Bright Green Laws,” (King, 11) or environmental laws that tells how any sort of impact on the environment, no matter how little, can create a pollutive mess. The laws include the “Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)” (11) from 1976 and the Clean Air Act. These laws provide the Environmental Protection Agency the means with which to prosecute violators or polluters.  For example, the “Superfund Law,” or the “Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)” which became law in 1980 really gave the EPA the authority and ability to fine companies or individuals who violated environmental standards and they were able to collect hefty fines or serve jail time. The author focuses on what he refers to as “Light Green Laws,” which are primarily directed at federal agencies, and are “self-enforcing,” and rarely include fines or prison sentences. (12).  Two of the most notable of the light green laws is the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) or, as he refers to them, the “heritage laws.” (13) I find the NHPA one of the most impactful laws in regard to historic preservation with Section 106 requiring “agencies to think and consult about their impacts on historic places . . .” (20).  Section 106 has also been useful in addressing environmental impact concerns, such as the case of Abo’ Pass near Albuquerque, New Mexico and helping the Buckland Preservation Society from urban sprawl.  The author criticizes the Bush Administration’s “scorn for environmental protection.” (21) If the current administration’s budget defunding the EPA goes through, our environment is in for a big hit.

Some interesting details in Chapters 3 and 4, I found the descriptions of their contents to be enlightening in understanding impacts on heritage. “In trying to preserve the village of Buckland and the Buckland Mills Battlefield, the Buckland Preservation Society (BPS) involves itself in NHPA and NEPA review mostly through two federal agencies.” (49) The Federal Highway Administration and the Corps of Engineers were two agencies that assisted in both of these significant projects in improving traffic and exercising the Clean Water Act in regards to wetlands.  Chapter 8 summarizes five criticisms from the author and I share his criticism.  The first being that firms are more than likely biased because they are part of the “planning team.” Secondly, instead of looking at it as a process, many firms just want to obtain “clearance.” (141)  The third criticism deals with the fact that the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation (ACHP) are lacking in power and any degree of enforcement.  The fourth issue deals with the complete lack of “transparency in the review systems,” and a questionable use of influence. (142) Last, but not least, is the unfortunate result of acceptance of the status quo and the inability to promote change for the betterment of EIA and CRM.  In King’s condemnation about the ineffectiveness of agencies whose primary purpose is for environmental protection and historic preservation, he cites “ignorance and unexamined assumptions,” as the reasons for “agency bias in favor of development . . .” (69) He cites government agencies which try to approach projects, listed on the National Register, that would require EIA and CRM with the same timelines and ease as if they were buying paper towels.

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