Coastal Zone Management Act (1972)

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Coastal Zone Management Act (1972)

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972 established a federal program to help states in planning and managing the development and protection of coastal areas through the creation of a Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP). The CZMA is primarily a planning act, rather than an environmental protection or regulatory act. Under its provisions, states can receive grants from the federal government to develop and implement coastal zone programs as long as the programs meet with federal approval. State participation in the program is voluntary, and the authority is focused in state governments. In 2002, 99.9% of the national shoreline and coastal waters were managed by state CZMPs.

In the 1960s, public concern began to focus on dredging and filling, industrial siting, offshore oil development, and second home developments in the coastal zone. The coastal zone law was developed in the context of increased development of marine and coastal areas, need for more coordinated and consistent governmental efforts, an increase in general environmental consciousness and public recreation demands, and a focus on land-use control nationally. In 1969, a report by the Commission on Marine Sciences, Engineering, and Resources (the Stratton Commission) recommended a federal grant program to the states to help them deal with coastal zone management. The Commission found that coastal areas were of prime national interest, but development was taking place without proper consideration of environmental and resource values.

During congressional debate over coastal zone legislation, support came primarily from marine scientists and affected state government officials. The opposition emanated from development and real estate interests and industry, who were also concerned with national land use bills. The major difference between House and Senate versions of the legislation that passed was which department would administer the program. At the executive level there was no debate: the Office of Coastal Zone Management (now the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, or OCRM), part of the National Ocean Service of NOAA, was placed in charge of the program. But Congressional opinion varied about the administrative oversight of the Act. The House favored the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI); the Senate, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), part of the Department of Commerce (DOC). The Senate position was adopted in conference.

The congressional committees and executive branch agencies involved in coastal zone management also greatly varied. The Senate Commerce Committee was selected to have jurisdiction over the legislation. The House originally designated the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee as its legislative arm, but it was dissolved in the mid 1990s. In 2002, the current House committee is the Committee on Resources with the Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans as its working division.

The CZMA declared that "there is a national interest in the effective management, beneficial use, protection, and development of the coastal zone." The purpose of the law is to further the "wise use of land and water resources for the coastal zone giving full consideration to ecological, cultural, historic and aesthetic values as well as to needs for economic development." The program is primarily a grant program, and the original 1972 Act authorized the spending of $186 million through 1977.

Under CZMA, the Secretary of Commerce was authorized to make grants to the states with coastal areas, including the Great Lakes ,to help them develop the coastal zone management programs required by federal standards. The grants would pay for up to two-thirds of a state's program and could be received for no more than three years. In addition to these planning grants, the federal government could also make grants to the states for administering approved coastal zone plans. Again, the grants could not exceed two-thirds of the cost of the state program. With federal approval, the states could forward federal grant money to local governments or regional entities to carry out the act.

The federal government also has oversight responsibilities, to make sure that the states are following the approved plan and administering it properly. The key components of a state plan are to: (1) identify the boundaries of the coastal zone; (2) define the permissible uses in the coastal zone that have a significant effect; (3) inventory and designate areas of particular concern; (4) develop guidelines to prioritize use in particular areas; (5) develop a process for protection of beaches and public access to them; (6) develop a process for energy facility siting; and (7) develop a process to control shoreline erosion . The states have discretion in these stages. For instance, some states have opted for coastal zones very close to the water, others have drawn boundaries further inland. The states determine what uses are to be allowed in coastal zones. Developments in the coastal area must demonstrate coastal dependence.

Coastal zone management plans deal primarily with private lands, though the management of federal lands and federal activities within the coastal zone is required by the consistency provision of the CZMA which requires state approval and must be consistent with state legislation. Indeed, this was intended as a major incentive for states to participate in the process. Although federal agencies with management responsibility in coastal zones have input into the plans, this state-federal coordination proved to be a problem in the 1980s and 1990s, especially regarding offshore oil development, due to differing interpretations of the consistency section of the CZMA.

At first, states were slow to develop plans and have them approved by federal authorities. This was due primarily to the political complexity of the interests involved in the process. The first three states to have their coastal zone management plans approved were California, Oregon, and Washington, which had their final plans approved by 1978. Both California and Washington had passed state legislation on coastal zone management prior to the federal law, California by referendum in 1972 and Washington in 1971. The California program is the most ambitious and comprehensive in the country. Its 1972 act established six regional coastal commissions with permit authority and a state coastal zone agency, which coordinated the program and oversaw the development of a state coastal plan. The California legislature passed a permanent coastal zone act in 1976 based on this plan. The permanent program stemmed from local plans reviewed by the regional commissions and state agency. Any development altering density or intensity of land use requires a permit from the local government, and sensitive coastal resource areas receive additional protection. As of May 2002, of the thirty-five eligible states and territories, thirty-three had approved coastal zone plans, one (Indiana) was in the planning process, and one (Illinois) had chosen not to participate in the program.

Three major issues arose during the state planning processes. Identifying areas of crucial environmental concern was a controversy that pitted environmentalists against developers in many states. In general, developers have proved more successful than environmentalists. A second issue is general development. States that have the most advanced coastal programs, such as California, use a permit system for development within the coastal zone. Environmental concerns and cumulative effects are often considered in these permit decisions. These permit programs often lead developers to alter plans before or during the application process. Such programs have generally served to improve development in coastal zones, and to protect these areas from major abuses.

The final issue, the siting of large scale facilities, especially energy facilities, has proven to be continually controversial as states and localities seek control over siting through their coastal zone plans, while energy companies appeal to the federal government regarding the national need for such facilities. In a number of court cases, the courts ruled that the states did have the power to block energy projects that were not consistent with their approved coastal management plans. This controversy spilled over into offshore oil development in waters in the outer continental shelf (OCS), which were under federal jurisdiction. These waters were often included in state coastal zone plans, many of which sought to prevent offshore oil development. In this case, the courts found in the 1984 ruling (Secretary of the Interior vs. California ) that such development could proceed over state objections.

Major amendments to the CZMA were passed in 1976, 1980, 1990, and 1996. In 1976, the Coastal Energy Impact Fund was created to sponsor grants and loans to state and local governments for managing the problems of energy development. Other changes included an increase in the federal funding level from two-thirds to 80% of planning and administration, an increase in planning grant eligibility from three to four years, and the addition of planning requirements for energy facilities, shoreline erosion, and beach access.

The 1980 amendments re-authorized the program through 1985 and established new grant programs for revitalizing urban waterfronts and helping coastal cities deal with the effects of energy developments. The amendments also expanded the policies and objectives of the CZMA to include the protection of natural resources , the encouragement of states to protect coastal resources of national significance, and the reduction of state-federal conflicts in coastal zone policy.

Amendments to the CZMA in 1990 were included in the budget reconciliation bill. Most importantly, the amendments overturned the 1984 decision of Secretary of the Interior vs. California, giving states an increased voice regarding federal actions off their coasts. The law, which was strongly opposed by the Departments of Defense and Interior, gives the states the power to try to block or change federal actions affecting the coastal zones if these actions are inconsistent with adopted plans. The amendments also initiated a nonpoint source coastal water pollution grant and planning program, repealed the coastal energy impact program, and reauthorized the CZMA through 1995.

In June 2001, a federal district court judge ruled that the Department of the Interior (DOI) must ensure that any oil and gas leases it grants on the outer continental shelf off the coast of California be consistent with the State of California Coastal Management Program (CCMP). The decision requires the Minerals Management Service of the DOI to provide proof that 36 federally-owned oil and gas drilling leases comply with CCMP guidelines. The case is the first to uphold state rights in federal oil leasing activities granted in the 1990 CZMA amendments.

The 1996 reauthorization of the CZMA extended the Act through September 30, 1999. However, several environmental issuesincluding debate over funding for nonpoint pollution programs and lobbying by the oil and gas industry to give the states less control over federal projects such as offshore drilling leaseshave delayed its further reauthorization. The continuous resistance by industry to curtain the rights of states or the rights of the Federal government to restrict oil and gas exploration and expansion has been in the forefront of the battle to reauthorize the CZMA. New admendments and even new legislation have been proposed that limit states from interfering in industry decisions in certain areas or limit the Federal government in others. It is clear from this contradictory legislation, that industry wants the consistency provision to only work when it is in the industry's interests.

The 106th Congress failed to vote on CZMA amendments entitled the Coastal Management Enhancement Act of 1999, but the legislation was reintroduced as the Coastal Zone Enhancement Reauthorization of 2001 by co-sponsoring Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and John Kerry (D-Mass.). As of May 2002, it had not yet been put to a Senate vote.

See also Environmental law; Environmental policy; International Joint Commission; Marine pollution; National lakeshore; Water pollution

[Christopher McGrory Klyza and Paula A Ford-Martin ]



Beatley, Timothy, D.J. Brower, and A.K. Schwab.An Introduction to Coastal Zone Management 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2001.


Durkin, Tish. "Headed for a Beach? Maybe This Yarn's Not For You." National Journal (August 18, 2001): 2588.

"States Get More Say in Offshore Activity."Congressional Quarterly Almanac 46 (1990): 288289.


U.S. Code Online via GPO Access. "Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972." SEC. 302 [16 U.S.C. 1451].[cited May 27, 2002]. <>


Coastal Zone Management Program, OCRM, NOS, NOAA, Coastal Programs Division, N/ORM3; 1305 East-West Highway, SSMC4, Silver Spring, MD USA 20910 (301) 713-3155, Fax: (301) 713-4367, ,

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