Your Congress in Action: Vol. 31

07/06/2021 2:09 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

Your Congress in Action is a series that highlights the Capitol Hill news that affects CRM firms the most. Be sure to subscribe to the ACRAsphere to ensure you don't miss an update.

After more than a year of pandemic and quarantines, it’s starting to feel more like a normal Washington summer. The temperature and humidity are rising, the masks are coming off, and the Nationals are closing in on first place in the National League East. And on Capitol Hill, the parties are maneuvering to gain the upper hand in negotiations over infrastructure, jobs, the environment and a host of other issues.

The big news is that President Biden and a bipartisan group of Senators have come to agreement on a framework for an infrastructure package. The package would spend $1.2 trillion over 8 years, including $579 billion in new spending, on roads, bridges, water systems, broadband and other "traditional infrastructure."

But the agreement almost unraveled shortly after it was announced at the White House when Biden said that he would not sign the bill unless it was paired with a larger "human infrastructure" package that included many of his and Democrats' other priorities, including on childcare, senior care, climate and environmental justice. Republicans in the negotiating group threatened to walk away from the deal until Biden said 24 hours later that he would indeed sign the bipartisan bill even without the larger package. However, Congressional Democratic leaders have said they will not bring the compromise package up unless the larger package is passed as well. Biden needs to navigate an extremely narrow path between the interests of his party and those of the GOP if he wants to get his top priority across the finish line.

The partisan tensions were evident when the House approved a $715 billion transportation funding package last week that would ramp up spending on rail and transit, while encouraging states to repair existing roads rather than build new ones. Historically a bipartisan issue, the transportation bill passed on a mostly party-line vote as Republicans complained they were left out of the process, resulting in a bill they said spent too much and left in place too much red tape.

The bill did include a major win for historic preservation and cultural resource management. The House approved an ACRA-backed amendment to permanently authorize the Historic Preservation Fund and double its annual authorization to $300 million.

The amendment was offered by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM). ACRA, the Society for American Archaeology and the American Anthropological Association urged Congress to pass the amendment, saying in a letter that it will help the Fund “be even more effective in helping states, communities and tribes protect the places that tell our nation’s story.”

Although the amendment needs to survive the back-and forth negotiations over the transportation bill with the Senate, it is an important step forward for the Fund, which has seen demand skyrocket in recent years. ACRA is working with its allies to ensure that Rep. Leger Fernandez’ amendment stays in the bill.

As the debate over infrastructure continues, other actions in Washington are likely to impact the CRM industry:

  • The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published an interim final rule last week extending the deadline by which federal agencies are required to adopt updated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations by two years. Prior to this announcement, federal agencies had until September 14, 2021, to adopt updated agency-specific NEPA rules based on new NEPA regulations enacted by the previous administration. That deadline will instead fall on September 14, 2023.
  • President Biden announced his intent to nominate Sara Bronin as Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) chairman. Bronin is a Mexican American architect, attorney, and policymaker specializing in historic preservation, property, land use, and climate change. She is a professor at the Cornell College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and an Associated Faculty Member of the Cornell Law School. She has held visiting positions at the Yale School of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania, and the Sorbonne. Among other scholarly service, Bronin is an elected member of the American Law Institute and a past chair of the State and Local Government Law Section of the American Association of Law Schools.
  • The House Appropriations Committee approved legislation last week that seeks to create a Commission on Federal Naming and Displays, which would review and recommend name changes to federal properties that are “inconsistent with the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.” The commission would create a list of recommended changes and submit them for the president’s consideration. The commission members would be appointed by the President, Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution, and must have 10 or more years of educational and professional experience in one or more of the following disciplines: history, art and antiquities, historic preservation, cultural heritage, and education. The bill now goes to the Senate.
  • Bipartisan legislation backed by ACRA and many other organizations was introduced in the House last week to provide free passes to national parks and other federal lands to active servicemembers, veterans and Gold Star Families. H.R. 4300, the Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act, was introduced by Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), and already has the backing of more than 130 of their congressional colleagues.

As summer turns to fall, pressure will likely increase on Congress and the White House to deliver results on infrastructure and other top issues – including many that impact the CRM profession. That’s why it is as important than ever for CRM professionals to make their voices heard.

Fortunately, ACRA members can get that chance this September by attending ACRA’s 27th Annual Conference in Old Town Alexandria, VA, September 8-12, 2021. On Thursday, September 9, ACRA members will head across the Potomac to Capitol Hill and lobby their elected representatives on the issues that matter the most to the industry. Don’t miss your chance to speak up for CRM – and, after a long year of Zoom calls, to do it in person!

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