• 08/10/2020 3:14 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    Cultural resource practitioners usually look to the past for our data—searching historical records, looking at old buildings, gathering oral histories from community elders, or digging important sites. Like many organizations in 2020, though, we’re taking our conference to the future instead. Using the most up-to-date technologies, we will be hosting our 2020 conference virtually over two half days on September 24 and 25.

    A combination of webinars and interactive round tables will be presented from 1:00 pm–5:00 pm EDT both days. Many of this year's sessions will focus on diversity and inclusion, both within the cultural resource management industry and the larger historic preservation field. Sessions will range from an update from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to in-depth dialogues on diversity in historic preservation. You can view the full schedule here.

    You will still also get the benefits you enjoy at the in-person conference: special presentation software will allow you to directly network with other attendees and ACRA sponsors. You can sit at a virtual table with colleagues to catch up, discuss the conference content, and more!

    As a special thank you to ACRA members, we have provided a discount to the (already low!) standard registration rates. Members can attend for $85 for both days, and non-members can attend both days for $100. Register today!

    Register NOW for the Virtual ACRA Conference

  • 08/07/2020 3:13 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    In June President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) directing federal agencies to waive environmental regulations to speed up infrastructure projects under the auspices of responding to the “economic emergency” presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than 50 Democratic lawmakers have requested that the Administration turn over documents relating to that EO, including information on the shortlist of construction projects under consideration to be expedited. 

    From The Hill:

    Agencies had 30 days to report which projects will be expedited under the order, but there was no requirement for that list to be publicized.

    “By keeping these reports from the public, this administration is concealing its own response to the economic crisis brought on by the COVID pandemic. If the administration is confident that this Executive Order can legally and legitimately provide economic relief, it should disclose which projects and decisions it is advancing under the auspices of the order,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the White House spearheaded by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), House Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-A.Z.)

    The order would slash the requirements in a number of landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires rigorous environmental review before building new infrastructure like highways or pipelines.

    But the lawmakers warn the White House is subject to “a myriad of federal laws that require transparency and public accountability” that it cannot legally sidestep.

    Read the full article from The Hill here, and stay tuned to the ACRAsphere for additional information.

  • 08/06/2020 2:22 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    Your Congress in Action is a series that highlights the Capitol Hill news that affects CRM firms the most. This information is sourced from the Coalition for American Heritage, news articles, and more. Be sure to subscribe to the ACRAsphere to ensure you don't miss an update.

    • The House passed a $3-trillion pandemic relief bill. Their bill includes a continuation of the $600/week unemployment benefits, which expired last Friday. Senate Republicans have balked at efforts to extend unemployment benefits. On Monday, they presented a $1-trillion proposal. The New York Times provided an analysis of the main differences between the two bills: view the article here.
      • President Trump floated the idea of a payroll tax cut, but it wasn't embraced by either party. The administration has since been exploring the idea of using executive orders to suspend the payroll tax and extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits. 
      • So far, there is no agreement on critical issues like funding for state and local governments, monies for the 2020 election, funds for schools to reopen, and other hot-button topics. Negotiations are ongoing between the House, Senate, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin.
    • Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Steve Daines (R-MT) have introduced the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act (S. 4431). The bill  grant broad authority to federal agencies to push fuels reduction projects, create a new center providing training on prescribed fire and allow projects to proceed while agencies consult over species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups have opposed the bill, stating that it does little to minimize risk to communities and further limits the public process in in forest management decisions. Read more in the Missoula Current, and read the statement from the Center for Biological Diversity here
    • Following the legal battle that saw the court suspend the use of Nationwide Permit 12, the Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to to separate oil and gas pipelines from its streamlined permits for utilities. More information on the impacts of this proposal is available in E&E News
    • The National Law Review has shared an article on how a potential change in the administration could affect environmental compliance:
      While U.S. national elections are still three months away and inauguration day isn’t for well over six months, current national and battleground state polling suggests that a change in Administration seems more likely than not. Companies asking themselves how to maximize their readiness for a change should consider looking closely at their environmental compliance efforts.

      The challengers’ presumptive nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has offered expansive ideas on addressing climate change and on other environmental programs, most of which will take months or years to bring to fruition through legislation or regulation, if at all. One opportunity for pursuing enhanced environmental protection and a visible separation from the current Administration available to a new President on the day he takes office, however, would be a directive to acting officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal environmental agencies to ramp up their environmental enforcement efforts under existing environmental laws. Numerous articles have pointed to a slowdown in new enforcement actions and to declining penalties and other enforcement metrics in recent years. And, indeed, presumptive nominee Biden has specifically criticized sharply declining criminal environmental prosecutions under the current Administration.

      Read the full article here.

  • 08/05/2020 1:23 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    Join us for another FREE members-only virtual happy hour on Monday, August 17 at 6:00 pm EDT.

    While there is no fixed agenda, ACRA President Nathan Boyless and Executive Director Amanda Stratton will be giving an update on the steps ACRA is taking to address diversity and inclusion, both within the organization and the CRM industry as a whole. We can also talk about current industry trends, discuss ideas with your peers about continuing to operate in the current climate, or even just vent about the challenges you have experienced during the pandemic. All employees of ACRA member firms are welcome to join.

    Simply sign up here and we will send you a link to join!

  • 08/04/2020 12:21 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    We wanted to quickly remind you about a previously announced member benefit: the ARCUS Leadership Program. We have partnered with the program to bring all employees of ACRA member firms FREE access to professional leadership development courses tailored to the opportunities and challenges of cultural heritage and historic preservation, including a culminating professional certificate.

    ARCUS seeks to support emerging leaders in cultural resource and public history disciplines by providing online coursework and networking around core leadership skills and knowledge, with a special focus on supporting the growth of diversity, inclusion, equity, and access.

    The full program normally costs $2,500, but until November 1, all employees of ACRA member firms are eligible to partake in this new resource at no additional cost.

    ARCUS courses cover a broad array of leadership topics, including community outreach, public speaking, financial management, fundraising, team building, advocacy, and many more.

    This offer is available to firms with an active ACRA membership, including students. Check out the full course list here, and click here for the discount code.

  • 07/31/2020 4:27 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Chairman Aimee Jorjani, ACHP Tribal Member Reno Franklin, and ACHP Member and National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers President Shasta Gaughen have issued a joint statement about the importance of federal agencies working with Indian tribes to protect cultural resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement stresses that ACHP continues to encourage federal agencies to consult early and often with Indian tribes and invest in developing relationships with them not only to improve the efficiency of the Section 106 process but to honor their government-to-government relationship with and trust responsibility to tribal nations.

    From the statement

    The spread of COVID-19 led to the closure or disruption of many governmental offices nationwide including those of Indian tribes. At the same time, however, this unprecedented event has demonstrated the benefit of developing and maintaining close working relationships between federal agencies and Indian tribes. Where such relationships existed, consultation has largely been able to continue pursuant to Section 106. Many federal agencies invested in developing relationships with Indian tribes prior to the pandemic. As a result, their Section 106 consultation efforts seem to be progressing despite the obstacles presented by COVID-19. One example of a formal federal-tribal relationship that includes a state agency is the Tribal Consultation Committee established through a Section 106 Programmatic Agreement (PA) among the North Dakota Federal Highway Administration, North Dakota Department of Transportation, and eight Indian tribes. The PA was amended in 2014 and now includes 19 Indian tribes. Having prior experience and knowledge of tribal governmental processes allows for efficient and effective use of time and resources to the benefit of all parties and can help move projects through the Section 106 process. This is particularly important as the nation moves into economic recovery phases and accelerates critical projects.

    Read the full ACHP statement here

  • 07/30/2020 4:00 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    Stay tuned to the ACRAsphere for registration and session information!

  • 07/29/2020 2:13 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    Data Preservation and Access in the Digital Age of CRM

    August 13, 2020  | 2:00 - 3:30 PM (EST) |
     Register Now

    Over the past decade, archaeology fieldwork, lab processing, and analysis has changed dramatically, driven primarily by developments in technology, computing, and the internet. Online digital repositories are one tool that can help in the integration and successful analysis of data in this changing environment. To better facilitate data-use in the internet/Big-Data era, it is recommended that CRM practitioners incorporate digital archiving into their daily workflows.

    Join us on August 13 at 2:00 pm EDT for Data Preservation and Access in the Digital Age of CRM. In this workshop, our expert providers will provide an overview and specific examples of the ways digital repositories can be used to improve your own operations, as well as enhancing research across broader archaeological contexts (i.e., “Grand Challenge” research). Case studies and examples using archaeological projects and collections in tDAR (the Digital Archaeological Record) will be used as illustrations.

    Space is limited, so register now to reserve your spot. As a reminder, we have implemented a firm-wide registration fee for ACRA members during the pandemic - once one person from a member firm registers, others can register for free. Contact us for information on subsequent registrations.

    Register Now

  • 07/28/2020 2:42 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    On behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), CRM practitioners have been invited to support the 3D Nation Elevation Requirements and Benefits Study. The goal of the 3D Nation Study is to develop program recommendations for how to more effectively meet user needs for topography and bathymetry data in the United States and its territories. These recommendations will support stakeholder-driven initiatives of both the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) and the Interagency Working Group on Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IWG-OCM). To build a baseline, study administrators are collecting a comprehensive set of requirements for elevation data, and the benefits associated with meeting these requirements.

    The survey administrators want to make sure that it includes broad input from private industry and non-governmental users of elevation data. They are particularly concerned about ocean and coastal representation, to make sure that the study is well balanced between land and sea.

    For this study they are looking for a national level perspective on your organization's activities that have 3D elevation data requirements and benefits.

    Organizations can share their data needs via this short form. Stakeholders can 'adopt' requirements easily and share a brief amount of information on their business use needs for topo and bathy elevation data.

    To input your information, use the shortcut to jump to the Business Use that most closely matches that of your organization. Indicate which data you need to perform your activities (choose all that apply: inland topo, inland bathy, nearshore bathy and/or offshore bathy). Describe your area of interest (e.g. nationwide, list one or more states, etc.) and if your AOI is offshore, please tell us how far offshore you need data (e.g. state waters, federal waters, to the EEZ, etc.). You may modify any of the listed average Quality Levels and Update Frequencies. And if possible, please provide any quantifiable benefits your organization would see if your elevation data requirements were met. Please quantify your benefits as annual hours or dollars saved or realized.

    Questions and responses can be sent to Sue Hoegberg.

  • 07/27/2020 3:00 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

    On July 15, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) unveiled its final revisions to regulations that will govern how, going forward, CEQ will implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Each agency will now have to revise its own regulations for implementing NEPA so their agency-specific regulations are consistent with the new CEQ regulations. ACRA and its partners at the Coalition for American Heritage has followed the development of these changes closely, and we expressed our concerns about the new regulations repeatedly throughout the rule-making process. Here, we assess how this final rule could impact historic and cultural resources, and we provide opportunities for action.

    Most important, these new regulations will limit consideration of effects on historic properties in the NEPA review process. Classes of federal actions are now exempt from NEPA review and the types of project effects that are examined during the NEPA review process are now restricted. By removing classes of projects and types of impacts from NEPA review, the new regulations will restrict and reduce the consideration of historic properties in project decision making overall.

    NEPA’s review process has long provided the public, including local stakeholders and Indian Tribes, with an opportunity to voice concerns about federal actions and projects. The opportunity for the public to review and comment on these actions and projects is the underpinning of the NEPA process. These concerns could be related to contamination of water sources, impacts to minority and underserved communities, destruction of cultural resources, or other environmental and social impacts. Under this new rule, CEQ significantly expedites the NEPA review process, bypassing or reducing time to implement many of the steps that allowed agencies to listen to, address, and remedy public objections to a project’s impacts.

    The following are our top five concerns about CEQ’s new rule for implementing NEPA.

    1. Fewer actions will be subject to NEPA review, because the new rule changes the definition of what activities warrant regulatory scrutiny.

      The new rule eliminates classes of federal actions from NEPA review because they do not meet the new “threshold” requirements to undergo a NEPA review. First, CEQ now directs agencies to exclude projects with “minimal federal funding” or projects “where the agency does not exercise sufficient control” from review. (See §1508.1(q)). Because they do not define “minimal” or “control,” this revision will give agencies with wide latitude to define “minimal” and “control” without any public scrutiny, which will likely lead to litigation.

      Second, agencies can also decide to exclude projects from NEPA review if they determine another process or statute will cover any concerns raised by stakeholders, or if they decide NEPA would conflict with another law that governs the project, again without any public input or scrutiny. (See § 1501.1). While this change may appear to enhance efficiency, in practice it gives agencies unilateral discretion over which projects merit review under NEPA. These changes clearly limit the projects subject to NEPA assessment and—particularly relevant to historic and cultural resources—those that would incorporate opportunities for the public to raise concerns about impacts on historic properties, as well as environmental and community impacts.

    2. The new rule makes it more difficult for the public to raise concerns about a project’s effects on their community.

      On top of the additional barriers to projects entering the NEPA review process, the new rule restricts the public’s ability to add its voice to or engage in the review process itself, once it is underway. This restriction emerges from a number of changes, including imposing arbitrary timelines that would significantly reduce comment periods. (See § 1501.10(b)(1-2)). Often, meaningful consultation with stakeholders and Tribes takes time, and time limits mean that agencies will be tempted to skip or shortchange steps in the process. In addition, the new rule limits the public’s ability to comment on the purpose and need of a project, restricting the type of input to a project’s design plans or outcomes. (See § 1503.1).

      Finally, if public constituents miss these narrow windows to comment on the project, the new rule prohibits them from pursuing litigation in court at a later date. Furthermore, even those who are eligible to bring a claim after participating in the comment process may have to put up money to access to the court system, as the new rule encourages the use of bonds in any ensuing litigation. (See § 1500.3). Again, these additional burdens could entirely exclude some communities from raising objections or encouraging alternatives for projects that might minimize impacts to historic properties. They will also exacerbate the risks that many marginalized communities face due to environmental hazards, obstructing their ability to bring legitimate claims before the court and pursue environmental justice.

    3. The new rule limits the types of effects agencies can consider.

      Even if agencies determine a project qualifies for NEPA review, the new rule significantly limits the analysis of a project’s effects on the environment. By revising the definition of effects, CEQ effectively excludes any impacts from consideration that do not occur as a direct result of the project or in its immediate vicinity. (See §1508.1 (g)).

      Under the new rule, effects are not considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain. These types of effects can result in adverse impacts to historic properties. For example, a federal action whose purpose and need includes regional economic development may result in impacts to historic properties in the locations of the resulting development. In addition, under the new rule, a “but for” causal relationship is insufficient to make a federal agency responsible for a particular effect under NEPA. As a result, the full range of impacts resulting from of a private development which cannot proceed “but for” receiving a federal permit or approval (that is, the project would not take place without the federal approval or permit) will not be examined under the NEPA review process. The NEPA review will only consider the narrow location of the federal approval or permit, and not the entire private project, which may have adverse impacts on historic properties.

    4. When considering alternative plans to mitigate a project’s risks to the environment or historic properties, agencies can only assess a “reasonable number.”

      The new rule also places an ill-defined and arbitrary limit on the number of alternatives that agencies can analyze. (See § 1502.14). Consideration of alternatives is important for identifying options that reduce impacts to cultural resources. By limiting agencies to a “reasonable number” of alternatives, CEQ unnecessarily restricts agencies to an arbitrary set of possible solutions.

      This new rule also limits the public’s ability to comment on these alternatives, curtailing what should be a robust review that takes into consideration stakeholder concerns. (See § 1500.3 (b)). Placing such a restriction will limit the agencies in their effort to avoid or minimize effects to historic and cultural resources.

    5. Ultimately, the new rule introduces confusing new terms that will invite litigation and delay projects, the opposite of what the Administration says it intends to do.

      Because of the ambiguity in certain terms contained in the new rule, the arbitrary discretion given to agencies, and an accelerated timeline for NEPA review that will create inevitable mistakes and omissions, these regulations are bound to result in extensive litigation. More litigation creates further project delays. NEPA now has fifty years’ worth of case law interpreting the statute and its regulations. These proposed regulations toss that case law—and all of the existing CEQ guidance—away.

      Indeed, these regulatory changes will not only impact communities and the natural and cultural resources they value, but they will impact and impair industry. Industry groups will now lose the predictability that was previously afforded projects from clear regulatory processes, and the ability to rely on the public input process to surface and resolve concerns about a project early in a project’s development.

    Recommended Response to Projects Under New Regulations

    There are, of course, other changes to the regulations that impact the preservation of historic properties. Cumulatively, each of the changes we have listed here will severely limit the public’s ability to comment on projects and alert agencies and private developers to impacts on historic and cultural resources, the environment, and communities. The next question is where we can go from here to continue to protect historic properties.

    The new rule begins to apply to all projects undergoing NEPA review on September 14, 2020, but agencies can now utilize the new rule voluntarily. This distinction is important, because communities can continue to engage with agencies using the old rule, reminding agencies that they do not have to apply the new rule until September 14 and that they will also likely come under challenge through litigation. The old rule remains the more reliable, legally sound procedure, tried and tested under 50 years of case law.

    In short, until September 14, communities can strategically pressure the agencies to continue applying the old rule to both new projects, as well as projects where NEPA review has already begun. Communities should notify litigators when agencies attempt to apply the new rule prematurely. With regard to projects currently in litigation, agencies do not have grounds to say the implementation of the new rule leaves no legal remedy for these projects. The violations being litigated occurred before the new rule applied, and the agencies violated the applicable law at the time: the previous CEQ rule, which has 50 years of case law on which to stand.

    Impacted communities should also become proactive about fact finding. Stakeholders can inform themselves about new project developments through multiple avenues, including accessing public records, FOIA requests, and initiating outreach to agencies. Once again, we expect litigation challenging these new regulations to ensue quickly.

    Take Action to Oppose NEPA Regulatory Rollbacks

    We encourage members to take action on this critical issue by contacting their members of Congress. Use our helpful tips in e-mailing your Congressional representatives - with these steps, you can make a real difference for your industry in just a few minutes time!

    • Click here to identify who represents you in Congress.
    • Visit your member’s website and look for a “Contact Me” tab that enables you to send an email directly to his/her office.
      • If you prefer to call, the Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121 and you can ask them to connect you to your Member’s office.
    • Share your home address so that the Member of Congress can confirm that you are a constituent.
    • In your message, provide a short explanation of how the NEPA regulatory rollback will likely impact your work and why you care about the issue. (It’s okay to use the same message in contacting your representative and both of your senators.)
    • Ask your Representative to cosponsor HConRes 89, legislation that asks the Trump Administration to reverse ongoing administrative actions to weaken NEPA and its protections for American communities.

    Stay tuned to all ACRA properties for additional developments on this and other issues facing the CRM industry. You can subscribe to the ACRAsphere for the most up to date information and follow up on both Facebook and LinkedIn.

Become an ACRA member to get exclusive benefits including vendor discounts, premium access to online learning opportunities, and much more.

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