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The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA): Improvements For More Sustainable State Management Programs Using Massachusetts as a Case Study

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA): Improvements For More Sustainable State Management Programs Using Massachusetts as a Case Study

Alexandra Van Baars

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972 was designed as a means for states to achieve “the effective management, beneficial use, protection, and development of the coastal zone.”[1] Although the CZMA has been effective in certain areas, there are other portions of the CZMA that have become ineffective with the rapid sea level rise contributing to shoreline change in the United States coastal zones.[2] This Note addresses the areas that need improvement and makes a number of proposals for how to increase the effectiveness of the CZMA as a whole.[3]

One of the main problems this Note identifies with the CZMA is that it only provides for a “federal consistency provision,” which requires that the federal government partake in activities and initiate programs in the state coastal zones that remain consistent with the objectives and goals of the state Coastal Zone Management Programs.[4] Even though this is a helpful tool in providing consistency among federal and individual state management tactics, this ignores the trans-boundary nature of the coastal zone.[5]

It would be beneficial if states were required to develop common and uniform management tactics along the coastal zones at their bordering state boundary lines.[6] Although there is “interstate consistency,” the current implementation of that notion is after the fact in nature.[7] States are allowed to veto federal approval of bordering state programs if they can prove that these programs will adversely affect their own coastal zone.[8] It would be much more efficient, however, if states worked together to develop common management tactics that would not degrade the coastal zones of downstream states.[9] By having states develop management tactics that would work well together and would not cause negative downstream effects, the CZMA would increase in effectiveness and it would eliminate the need for states to veto the proposals that other states bring to the federal government.[10]

In order to accomplish this increased consistency among the individual state plans, the federal government could implement a federal checklist of projects and tactics that states may choose from.[11] These tactics would be pre-approved by the federal government and they could be chosen in a way that would ensure their consistency with each other.[12] Certain states, for example, currently utilize “hard armoring” techniques, such as the construction of seawalls, revetments, bulkheads, and other such barriers to protect coastal developments from the effects of erosion.[13] Developing a more cohesive and uniform coastal zone management program among the coastal states may include the states agreeing on the appropriate forms of “hard armoring” that are acceptable in certain types of coastal ecosystems.[14]

Overall, it will be important for the CZMA to be updated to incorporate more uniform and cohesive management tactics in the United States coastal zones.[15] This will increase the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the Act in the years to come.[16] It will encourage state cooperation and better, more efficient participation in the provisions of the CZMA.[17]

Questions and inquiries regarding this Note may be forwarded to the author at

[1] Coastal Zone Management Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1451 (1972) (P.L. 92-583).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Linda Krop, Defending State’s Rights Under the Coastal Zone Management Act—State of California v. Norton, 8 Sustainable Dev. L. & Pol’y 54, 55 (2007).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] In the Consistency Appeal of the Virginia Electric and Power Company From an Objection by the North Carolina Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources, U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of the Secretary, (1994) (taken from Alison Rieser et. al., Ocean and Coastal Law: Cases and Materials 290 (4th ed. 2013)).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Coastal Zone Management Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1451 (1972) (P.L. 92-583).

[12] Id.

[13] Resource Issues: Coastal Armoring and Erosion, Monterey Bay Nat’l Marine Sanctuary, (last updated May 20, 2014).

[14] Id.

[15] Coastal Zone Management Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1451 (1972) (P.L. 92-583).

[16] Id.

[17] Id

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