Deficit reduction, taxes, budget reconciliation, and appropriations have dominated Congress's attention during the first few months of the leading session of the 105th Congress. Before the July 4 recess, Congress passed two budget reconciliation packages and stepped up work on fiscal 1998 spending bills. Additional work remains on reconciliation, taxes, and appropriations when Congress returns after the recess.
The past several months have also seen activity on several pieces of legislation that will affect the way that archaeological resources are preserved and conserved in this country. Although the current congressional environment is not as threatening to archaeology as it was two years ago in the 104th Congress, several of these bills, if enacted, will have a detrimental impact on our nation's archaeological record. Several legislative proposals that SAA is currently lobbying are presented below.
Fiscal Year 1998 Appropriations
The House Appropriation Committee has approved $13 billion for fiscal 1998 for Department of the Interior and related agencies' spending, which is $132 million below President Clinton's $13.1 billion budget request. SAA testified before the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on the Interior back in March in support of the president's requests. Many of the federal programs important to archaeology are funded in this spending bill, including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Historic Preservation Fund. Several of these programs received a modest funding increase from fiscal 1997 levels. The House of Representatives will debate and vote on the Interior and related agencies' appropriation bill after its return from the July 4 recess. As soon as the House passes legislation, the Senate will begin the markup process.
Amendments to the Antiquities Act
Shortly before the July recess, the House Resources Committee approved legislation (HR 1127) that would sharply curtail the president's authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The bill is in response to President Clinton's 1996 action to set aside 1.7 million acres in Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, over the opposition of many local officials and without the backing of Congress.
HR 1127 restricts the president's authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments to areas of fewer than 50,000 acres. Congressional consent and consultation with state officials would be required before a larger monument could be created. SAA opposes the legislation and has been working with the Antiquities Act Coalition to secure defeat of the bill. Coalition members include the National Parks and Conservation Association, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Native American Rights Fund. President Clinton has already promised to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
United Nations World Heritage Sites
The same day that the House Resources Committee marked up HR 1127, it also approved a measure that would restrict the way that United Nations World Heritage sites are designated in the United States. The American Land Sovereignty Protection Act (HR 901) amends the National Historic Preservation Act by prohibiting the secretary of the Interior Department from nominating any federal lands to the World Heritage List unless the nomination is specifically approved by Congress. Currently there are 20 World Heritage sites in the U.S.
Supporters of the bill argue that the designations usurp Congress's authority under the Constitution to manage the nation's public lands. Opponents, including the Clinton administration, contend that the legislation would severely erode U.S. efforts to protect sensitive cultural sites in other parts of the world. SAA opposes the bill and is working with several other concerned groups in an effort to defeat it.
Petroglyph National Monument
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Rep. Steve Schiff (R-N.M.) have introduced legislation (S 633, HR 1424) that would remove 8.5 acres from the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico in order to construct a highway through the monument. The legislation is necessary to circumvent opposition to the road by the Department of the Interior.
The monument was created in 1990 and protects thousands of petroglyphs, many of which would be destroyed if the road is allowed to go through.
Opposing the legislation is a coalition made up of environmental and historic preservation groups, including SAA, Keepers of the Treasures, Friends of the Albuquerque Petroglyphs, National Parks and Conservation Association, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Hearings have not yet been scheduled and the legislation's future is uncertain at this time.
Space does not allow me to fully expound on the above bills. If you would like further information on any of them, please contact me at SAA headquarters, firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone (202) 789-8200.
Donald Forsyth Craib is manager, government affairs, and counsel of SAA.