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Friday, June 28, 2013

NHPAat50: Support of the Executive Branch

U.S. President John F. Kennedy, right, and Democratic congressional leaders watch the Atlas rocket and the newly-manned Mercury spacecraft blast off at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a television set in the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20, 1962. From left are, Rep. Hale Boggs, Louisiana; House Speaker John McCormack, Massachusetts, partially hidden; Rep. Carl Albert, Oklahoma; Sen. Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota; Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Kennedy. (AP Photo)

To fully understand the political philosophy and process by which passage of the NHPA was secured we must first look to the Kennedy Administration. President John F. Kennedy provided the highest level of presidential leadership for conservation since Franklin D. Roosevelt.[i] He presented a “Special Message to the Congress on Natural Resources” on February 23, 1961. This was followed by a “White House Conference on Conservation” on May 25, 1962. Kennedy wrote the preface to Stewart Udall’s book The Quiet Crisis that was first published in 1963. Among President Kennedy’s greatest contributions to conservation “was his reassertion of the concept that the Federal government has a primary responsibility to exercise its authority on issues involving natural resources and the environment.”[ii] This support for conservation during the Kennedy Administration culminated in the Johnson Administration.[iii] Further, the Kennedy strategy for supporting conservation is one that was copied and applied writ large to the support of historic preservation during the Johnson Administration.

Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall was a Kennedy appointee who continued to serve under President Johnson. As early as 1961 he began talking about the need for a Conservation Fund similar to the Highway Trust Fund. Such a fund would provide a much needed infusion of resources that would allow for targeted acquisition of open space that was rapidly being  lost to development. The Budget office initially panned the idea, favoring entrance fees to be charged to National Parks. This generated only around $12 million a year and was far short of the $30 million to $50 million that was desired.[iv] Ultimately a Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in 1964. This fund later served as a prototype for establishing a similar Historic Preservation Fund in 1977, authorized up to $150 million annually.[v]

Kennedy’s notion of expanding the role of the Federal government to support conservation, and Udall’s persistence in finding and providing an infusion of money to support that expanded role, proved a potent pairing in the Johnson Administration’s support of conservation in general and historic preservation in particular.

In our next installment of "NHPAat50" next Friday, we will look at shifting notions of historic preservation and the Task Force on Natural Beauty.

[i] Gould, Lewis. Lady Bird Johnson and the Environment. 1988. p. 41.
[ii] Gould, Lewis. Lady Bird Johnson and the Environment. 1988. p. 41.
[iii] Frantz, Joe B. Interview with Stuart Udall. May 19, 1969. Credit: LBJ Library.
[iv] Frantz, Joe B. Interview with Stuart Udall. May 19, 1969. Credit: LBJ Library.
[v] National Park Service. “Historic Preservation Fund.” Accessed December 28, 2012. http://www.nps.gov/history/thpo/downloads/HISTORIC-PRESERVATION-FUND.pdf

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