Congress was in recess last week for the Memorial Day holiday, but while lawmakers were out of town, the administration was at work on a number of initiatives that impact cultural resources.

  • Restoring Tribal Power on Water. The EPA has proposed tighter water regulations that would shift power back to the states and Native American tribes to block energy projects like natural gas pipelines that could potentially pollute rivers and streams, reversing a Trump administration move. The Clean Water Act allows states and tribes to review what effect pipelines, dams and some other federally regulated projects might have on water quality within their borders. The Trump administration sought to streamline fossil fuel development and made it harder for local officials to block projects. The final rule would likely go into effect by spring 2023, following a public commenting period.

The EPA also announced it will renew the Tribal Infrastructure Task Force (ITF) to improve coordination between federal agencies on water, wastewater and sanitation projects in Indian Country. The agency also announced $154 million for Tribes and Alaska Native Villages through the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill and an additional $2.6 million under the agency’s Small, Underserved, and Disadvantaged Communities (SUDC) Grant program.

  • Modernizing Corps 106 Procedures. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Friday that it is launching an effort to modernize its civil works program, possibly including updating its implementing regulations for the National Historic Preservation Act.

Acknowledging that there has been “longstanding disagreement” between the Corps and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation over differences between the Corps’ Regulatory Program Appendix C and the Council’s Section 106 regulations, which has led to “inconsistency and confusion among the regulated public, State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, Tribes, and others,” the Corps stated that “rulemaking on Appendix C is a priority policy initiative which will serve to modernize the Regulatory Program.”

The Corps is seeking public input into its regulations through a comment period that runs until August 2, and through a number of public virtual meetings in July.

  • Added Capacity at BLM for Renewables. The Interior Department announced last week that the Bureau of Land Management will open five Renewable Energy Coordination Offices in order to speed the processing of wind, solar and geothermal development. According to Interior, “The BLM is actively partnering with key federal agencies to fund dedicated positions to prioritize robust environmental compliance coordination for renewable energy proposals. The coordination offices include a national office at the BLM’s headquarters, within state offices in Arizona, California and Nevada; and a regional office led by BLM Utah. The BLM is also actively hiring project managers in other states, such as Idaho and Colorado, to support renewable permitting work in those states.” Interior also said that the Renewable Energy Coordination Offices will support increased engagement between the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Energy and Defense and the EPA.

The announcement came as the Department said that it plans to cut rents and fees for solar and wind projects on public lands by about 50 percent in an effort to increase the production of renewable energy.

  • Bristol Bay. The EPA has proposed restrictions that would block copper and gold mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The EPA’s proposal would prohibit the release of dredged or fill material into the U.S. waters within the proposed footprint of the mining site. If finalized, the EPA said that its determination under the Clean Water Act would help protect the Bristol Bay watershed’s rivers, streams, and wetlands that support the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and a subsistence-based way of life that has sustained Alaska Native communities for millennia.

As Congress returns to Washington for a busy few months of legislating, a number of issues that impact CRM will be on the agenda, including funding for the Historic Preservation Fund.  Stay tuned to ACRASphere for more updates.