US Coastal Zone Management Program

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The United States Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP) established under the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972 serves as the centerpiece for coordinated coastal zone planning and management in the US. This unique environmental law encourages states to balance economic development with environmental protection. Thirty-four of 35 eligible states participate in this voluntary program. States with coastal zone management programs (CZMPs) that have been approved by the federal office of Coastal Zone Management as meeting the requirements of the Act receive annual funding for implementation of their program. They also benefit from the CZMA’s “federal consistency” clause, which requires federal agencies to be consistent “to the maximum extent practicable” with the state’s CZM program. CZMPs are comprehensive state wide management plans with authority to regulate coastal development and formulate site and activity specific management plans as needed. While the federal CMZP has been evaluated several times and found to be effective in addressing numerous coastal issues, many areas of US coastline continue to be degraded by population growth, overexploitation of natural resources and climate change . States such as Florida, Maryland and California are taking comprehensive views of climate change as one of the key stressors. A recent Maryland Climate Change Report ( shows the impacts of climate change to the shoreline, fisheries, and water quality.

Objectives of the CZMP

The program objectives are derived from the CZMA goal to "preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, to restore or enhance the resources of the nation's coastal zone." A central feature of the CZMP is that it is a voluntary program that encourages states to integrate across both conservation and development needs and coordinate the actions of local, state and federal agencies in the coastal zone.

Roles of Government The primary role of the Federal government in coastal management includes setting national priorities, policies and standards; approving state programs; coordinating national interagency actions; ensuring the national interests are protected; and providing technical assistance and federal funding to state CZM programs that have been approved.

States play a central role in coastal management. Their primary responsibilities include defining state interests in their coastal zone; developing and implementing comprehensive coastal management programs; coordinating state interagency policies; providing matching state funds; ensuring state and federal governments are consistent with a CZMP’s policies; providing technical assistance to local governments; and ensuring public participation in all phases of management.

Since local (county and municipal) governments have significant land use powers in the United States, they also play an important role in coastal management. Their responsibilities include developing and enforcing local regulations over land and water uses, coordinating local interagency activities, supporting outreach and education and providing a forum for public participation on relevant issues.


In the 1960s, concern was mounting over the declining condition of the nation’s estuaries and Great Lakes and the inappropriate development and over-development of the nation’s coastal resources. Congress convened the Stratton Commission (Commission on Marine Sciences, Engineering, and Resources) in 1969 that concluded "there is a national interest in the effective management, beneficial use, protection, and development of the coastal zone." The Commission recommended the establishment of an independent federal agency and legislation to oversee a national ocean policy that would address the use of marine resources and coastal areas (US OCEANS REPORT).

Key Features and Scope

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources Management administers the program. Each state’s coastal zone extends three miles seaward, and inland as far as required to regulate the activities and areas that the state finds necessary to meet federal standards. The federal program offers two incentives to states to participate in the program. The first is federal funds to prepare a state CZM program and then long term financial support to implement the program once approved. The second incentive is ‘federal consistency,’ the policy that stipulates that federally sponsored/funded actions must be consistent with the state’s coastal program policies and procedures. Some states that have a CZM program in place have used this clause to limit the offshore development of oil and gas reserves. When first enacted, the CZMP was unusual in that it set stringent requirements for public participation in all phases of planning and decision making and set high standards for intergovernmental coordination. Congress understood that integrated coastal management demands strong partnerships among governmental agencies at all levels and needs constituencies among the public and affected stakeholders who understand and actively support the program’s goals and management approach.

Major Statutory Provisions for Designing a Coastal Program

State programs must meet a number of standards in order to win federal approval. These include:

  • Definition and mapping of the coastal zone
  • Definition of permissible land and water uses within the zone
  • An inventory and designation of areas of particular concern (economic, cultural, historic and ecological)
  • Identification of the authorities and methods by which the state will implement its policies and regulate identified land and water uses
  • A description of the institutional arrangements and authorities by which the program will be implemented (there are five types of institutional arrangements recognized by NOAA)
  • Specification of a planning processes for siting energy facilities and for assessing shoreline erosion and restoration

A sequence of congressional re-authorizations of the Act have made more specific the topics and issues that must be addressed by state CZM programs. These include:

  • Protection of natural and cultural resources
  • Protection of people and property from natural hazards
  • Providing development priority to coastal-dependent uses
  • Revitalizing waterfronts
  • Providing public access to ocean and coastal areas
  • Improving coastal water quality.

Types of State Programs Each state structures and implements their CZM program to best suit their needs. There are two major categories of institutional arrangements for CZM. In centralized programs, a single state agency has comprehensive planning and regulatory authority (for example Rhode Island). In a networked program, a “lead” state agency coordinates the regulatory and permitting authorities of several state and local agencies. Twenty-three states have variations of this networked structure. Some state CZM programs delegate to local governments much of the responsibility for administering the program. Nine states have adopted this model.

Federal Consistency Requirement The federal consistency clause Section 307 states that federal actions that are likely to affect any land or water in a state’s coastal zone must be consistent with the state’s CZM program. The provision extends to include local government and private industry activities that benefit from receiving the federal funding.

The consistency mechanism encourages federal agencies to coordinate and consult with the states at an early stage in project development. This:

  1. often reduces conflicts between parties. An important component of federal consistency is the ‘effects test’ whereby states may block a federal project if it is determined that project is reasonably likely to affect the coastal zone. This includes projects outside of the state's designated coastal zone, including for example, federal offshore waters
  2. increases the prospects for state support of jointly designed actions. While consistency is a powerful tool, it is important to note that state CZMPs concur with 95 to 97% of all federal actions (NOAA Coastal Services Center- referenced below). This suggests that the early communication, and negotiation between the federal agency making the proposal and the state CZM program from the beginning of a planning and decision making process results in agreements in all but a few instances. Confrontation and disagreement would be greater if collaborative planning, information sharing and the like occurred only when a federal initiative had already been detailed.

Performance Review Section 312 of the CZMA requires there be periodic performance reviews to help ensure states are appropriately implementing and enforcing the approved CZMP. If significant problems are identified, the state must address them or federal approval and associated funding and consistency procedures are withdrawn.

Key Management Tools

Each state selects the management tools it will use to implement its CZM program. Some tools are standardized and/or required.

Permitting States must identify in their coastal management plan those activities that will be regulated, how they will be regulated and by what standards. The objective is to provide the public with a transparent and predictable decision making process.

Nonpoint Pollution The Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program that was added to the CZMA in 1990 strives to increase coordination between state coastal programs and local water quality programs and projects. This program is implemented in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency, whose mandate is provided by the Clean Water Act. The program focuses on prevention at the local scale through such measures as land use planning and zoning.

Issue-based Management The Enhancement Grant Program (EGP) was created to focus implementation efforts on a number of specific issues identified by the original Act and subsequent reauthorizations. A major concern has been for the cumulative impacts of development decisions, water pollution, wetland restoration, public access, aquaculture and coastal hazards.

Special Area Management Plans The CZMA encourages states to develop Special Area Management Plans (SAMPs) that are geographically focused across multiple jurisdictions to address a combination of issues in a comprehensive manner in a specific locale.

The goal of SAMPs is to fine tune policies to the unique combination of issues and needs in a specific area. SAMPs have been effective in a variety of geographical settings ranging from waterfronts and ports to watersheds and estuaries. Their successes can be attributed to clear boundaries, place specific goals and strategies, strong local participation and effective implementation mechanisms designed to efficiently generate desired results. (

The Evolution of the Program

The CZMA has been amended several times. In 1976, grants and loans were provided to states for siting of energy facilities as a response to an energy crisis. In 1980, additional program goals and policies were adopted to encourage the transition from planning to implementation. The 1990 amendments clarified the federal consistency provision in light of new court rulings.

See Also

Internal Links

External Links


The main authors of this article are Olsen, Stephen Bloye and Ricci, Glenn
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Olsen, Stephen Bloye; Ricci, Glenn; (2020): US Coastal Zone Management Program. Available from [accessed on 23-04-2024]