A Guide to the Coastal Zone Management Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) plays a crucial role in balancing the competing demands of economic development and environmental conservation in the nation's coastal areas. This comprehensive guide offers a deep dive into the key provisions, regulatory standards, and compliance strategies essential for successfully navigating the complexities of the CZMA. Readers will gain a thorough understanding of the Act's history, its relationship to other environmental regulations, and the specific requirements for federal consistency review. The guide also explores the collaborative nature of coastal management under the CZMA, highlighting the importance of early and ongoing engagement with state coastal management agencies. With practical insights on compliance assistance, best practices for integrating coastal management considerations into project planning, and a wealth of additional resources, this guide serves as an indispensable tool for effectively managing projects in the dynamic and sensitive environments along our nation's coasts.


Key Details of the Coastal Zone Management Act

Issuing Agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Year Established: 1972 Last Amended: 1996 Statutory Authority: Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 Primary Legal Reference: Title 16, Chapter 33 of the United States Code (16 U.S.C. §§ 1451-1466)

What is the Coastal Zone Management Act?

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) is a federal law that provides a framework for managing and protecting the nation's coastal resources. Enacted in 1972, the CZMA aims to balance economic development with environmental conservation in coastal areas. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency within the Department of Commerce, administers the CZMA.

The CZMA encourages coastal states and territories to develop and implement comprehensive coastal management programs that address a wide range of issues, including coastal development, water quality, habitat protection, and public access. States with approved coastal management programs receive federal funding and technical assistance to support their efforts.

The CZMA also requires federal agencies to conduct their activities in a manner consistent with approved state coastal management programs, a process known as "federal consistency."1 This provision ensures that federal actions, such as offshore oil and gas leasing or infrastructure projects, do not undermine state efforts to protect coastal resources.

While the CZMA has been amended several times since its enactment, most notably in 1990 and 1996, its core principles and approach remain largely unchanged. The CZMA continues to serve as a critical tool for managing the nation's coastal resources in the face of increasing development pressures and environmental challenges.

What does the Coastal Zone Management Act protect?

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) protects a wide range of natural, cultural, and economic resources found within the coastal zone. These include:

  1. Wetlands, estuaries, and other coastal habitats that support diverse plant and animal species, including commercially and recreationally important fish and wildlife.

  2. Beaches, dunes, and other coastal landforms that provide critical ecosystem services, such as flood protection and erosion control.

  3. Water quality in coastal waters, which is essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems and supporting human activities such as swimming, fishing, and shellfish harvesting.

  4. Historic and cultural resources, such as lighthouses, shipwrecks, and archaeological sites, that contribute to the unique character and heritage of coastal communities.

  5. Public access to the coast for recreational activities, such as boating, fishing, and beach-going, which is an important component of many coastal economies.2

The CZMA protects these resources by providing incentives and support for states to develop and implement comprehensive coastal management programs that balance conservation with sustainable development. These programs include policies and regulations designed to minimize the adverse impacts of coastal development, such as erosion, habitat loss, and water pollution.


Section 307 - Federal Consistency

The Coastal Zone Management Act's Section 307, known as the "federal consistency" provision, is a key section that requires federal actions affecting any land or water use or natural resource of a state's coastal zone to be consistent with that state's federally approved coastal management program3. This section is crucial for developers, environmental consultants, and other stakeholders involved in large-scale greenfield development projects, as it ensures that federal activities align with state coastal management objectives.

The main purpose of Section 307 is to give states a strong voice in federal agency decision-making regarding activities that affect their coastal zones. It establishes a unique federal-state partnership in which states have the authority to review federal actions for consistency with their coastal management programs4. This section applies to various federal activities, including federal agency activities, federal license or permit activities, outer continental shelf plans, and federal financial assistance to state and local governments5.

For the target audience, complying with Section 307 involves understanding the state's coastal management program, determining whether their project falls under the jurisdiction of this section, and obtaining necessary approvals from the state coastal management agency. Developers should engage with the state agency early in the project planning process to ensure consistency and avoid potential delays or challenges.

Compliance strategies may include conducting thorough assessments of the project's impacts on coastal resources, developing mitigation measures, and maintaining open communication with the state coastal management agency. Best practices involve integrating coastal management considerations into project design and planning from the outset and staying informed about any updates or changes to the state's coastal management program.

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) interacts with various other federal, state, and local regulations and agencies in managing and protecting the nation's coastal resources. Some key relationships include:

  1. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): Federal actions subject to CZMA federal consistency review may also require environmental review under NEPA6. The CZMA and NEPA processes are often coordinated to streamline decision-making and ensure comprehensive environmental assessment.

  2. Clean Water Act (CWA): The CWA regulates discharges into navigable waters, including coastal waters. States may incorporate CWA provisions into their coastal management programs, and federal consistency review may consider a project's compliance with CWA requirements7.

  3. Endangered Species Act (ESA): The ESA protects threatened and endangeredIf species and their habitats, many of which are found in coastal areas. Federal consistency review may consider a project's potential impacts on ESA-listed species and their critical habitats8.

  4. State and Local Agencies: The CZMA encourages states to develop and implement comprehensive coastal management programs in partnership with local governments and agencies. State coastal management agencies work closely with local planning, zoning, and permitting authorities to ensure consistent management of coastal resources9.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plays a key role in administering the CZMA and providing guidance and support to state coastal management programs10. Other federal agencies, such the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also have important responsibilities related to coastal resource management and may be involved in federal consistency review and related permitting processes11.


Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) and its implementing regulations establish various standards and limitations to protect coastal resources and ensure sustainable development in coastal areas. While the CZMA does not set specific emissions limits or performance standards, it requires states to develop and implement coastal management programs that address a wide range of issues, including:12

  • Protection of natural resources, such as wetlands, estuaries, beaches, and dunes
  • Management of coastal development to minimize the loss of life and property caused by improper development in flood-prone, storm surge, geological hazard, and erosion-prone areas
  • Priority consideration for coastal-dependent uses and orderly processes for siting major facilities related to national defense, energy, fisheries development, recreation, ports and transportation
  • Public access to the coasts for recreation purposes
  • Coordination and simplification of procedures to ensure expedited governmental decision-making for the management of coastal resources
  • Continued consultation and coordination with affected Federal agencies
  • Giving timely and effective notification of, and opportunities for public and local government participation in, coastal management decision-making13

States must develop coastal management programs that meet these broad standards and submit them to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for approval. Once a state's program is approved, all federal activities within or affecting the coastal zone must be consistent with the state's program to the maximum extent practicable.14 This "federal consistency" provision is a key mechanism for ensuring that federal actions align with state coastal management priorities.

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

The CZMA does not impose specific monitoring, reporting, or recordkeeping requirements on regulated entities. However, states are required to monitor and evaluate their coastal management programs to assess their effectiveness in achieving the goals of the CZMA. States must submit annual performance reports to NOAA, which include:15

  • A description of the state's progress in achieving the goals and objectives of its coastal management program
  • Identification of any deficiencies in the state's program and recommendations for addressing those deficiencies
  • A summary of the status of any federal consistency reviews conducted during the year
  • A summary of any major state or local government actions affecting the coastal zone
  • A list of all public meetings, hearings, and other public participation activities conducted by the state during the year

These reporting requirements help ensure transparency and accountability in the implementation of state coastal management programs. They also provide valuable information for NOAA to assess the overall effectiveness of the CZMA and identify areas for improvement.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

The CZMA relies primarily on a cooperative approach to enforcement, with NOAA working closely with states to ensure compliance with approved coastal management programs. NOAA conducts periodic evaluations of state programs to assess their performance and identify any areas of concern.16 These evaluations may include:

  • Site visits to review program implementation and meet with state officials and stakeholders
  • Review of state performance reports and other relevant documents
  • Interviews with state staff and other key partners

If NOAA identifies deficiencies in a state's program, it will work with the state to develop a corrective action plan and provide technical assistance as needed. In cases of serious or persistent non-compliance, NOAA may impose sanctions, such as:17

ViolationPotential Penalty
Failure to submit an approvable coastal management programWithholding of grant funds until an approvable program is submitted
Failure to implement and enforce an approved programSuspension of grant bars until the state demonstrates compliance
Failure to address deficiencies identified in a program evaluationSuspension or withdrawal of program approval and associated grant funds

The CZMA also authorizes citizen suits against any person, including the United States, alleged to be in violation of the Act or its implementing regulations.18 Citizens must provide 60 days' notice of their intent to sue and may not proceed if the Secretary of Commerce or the state is diligently prosecuting a civil action to require compliance.

Compliance Assistance & Regulatory Incentives

NOAA provides a range of technical assistance and support to help states develop and implement their coastal management programs effectively. Some key resources include:

  • The CZMA Performance Measurement System, a web-based tool that helps states track their progress in achieving the goals and objectives of their programs19
  • The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, which provides matching funds to state and local governments to purchase threatened coastal and estuarine lands or obtain conservation easements20
  • Regular workshops, webinars, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities on topics such as climate change adaptation, coastal hazards, and public access

In addition, the CZMA provides several incentives for states to participate in the national coastal management program, including:21

  • Federal funding for the development and implementation of state coastal management programs
  • Technical assistance and support from NOAA in program development and implementation
  • The ability to review federal actions for consistency with the state's program
  • Preferential consideration for certain federal grants and assistance programs

These incentives have been successful in encouraging state participation, with 34 out of 35 eligible states and territories currently participating in the national coastal management program.22


Regulatory History & Upcoming Changes

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) was enacted by Congress in 1972 to address the increasing pressures on the nation's coastal resources23. The Act aims to preserve, protect, develop, and, where possible, restore and enhance the resources of the nation's coastal zone. The CZMA has been amended several times since its enactment, with major amendments occurring in 1976, 1980, 1986, 1990, and 1996.

Key provisions of the CZMA and its amendments include:

  • Encouraging and assisting states in developing and implementing coastal zone management programs24
  • Establishing the National Estuarine Research Reserve System to protect and study estuarine areas
  • Providing funding to states for the development and implementation of coastal zone management programs
  • Requiring federal activities and development projects to be consistent with approved state coastal management programs

The 1990 amendments, known as the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (CZARA), focused on addressing nonpoint source pollution in coastal waters. CZARA required states with approved coastal zone management programs to develop and implement coastal nonpoint pollution control programs.

As of 2023, there are no major proposed rules, regulatory changes, or pending legislation related to the CZMA. However, it is essential for regulated entities to stay informed about potential future changes by regularly checking the Federal Register, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office for Coastal Management website, and participating in public comment periods when applicable25.

Additional Resources

  1. Full text of the Coastal Zone Management Act and its amendments: https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/act/ - This link provides access to the complete text of the CZMA and its subsequent amendments26.

  2. NOAA's Office for Coastal Management website: https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/ - The official website of the NOAA's Office for Coastal Management offers a wealth of information on the CZMA, including guidance documents, fact sheets, and resources for states and regulated entities27.


  1. 16 U.S.C. § 1456.

  2. NOAA. (2021). Coastal Zone Management Act. https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/act/

  3. 16 U.S.C. § 1456 (2018). https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/16/1456.

  4. "Federal Consistency Overview." NOAA Office for Coastal Management. https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/consistency/.

  5. 15 C.F.R. Part 930. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/15/part-930.

  6. "NEPA and CZMA: Coordination of Two Federal Environmental Reviews." NOAA Office for Coastal Management..

  7. "Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification." Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401.

  8. "Endangered Species Act." U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service..

  9. "Coastal Zone Management Act - Overview." Texas General Land Office..

  10. "Coastal Zone Management Act." NOAA Office for Coastal Management. https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/act/.

  11. "Federal Agency Responsibilities under the Coastal Zone Management Act." NOAA Office for Coastal Management. (accessed April 24, 202 3).

  12. 16 U.S.C. § 1452

  13. 15 C.F.R. § 923.1(b)

  14. 16 U.S.C. § 1456(c)

  15. 15 C.F.R. § 923.127

  16. 15 C.F.R. § 923.133

  17. 15 C.F.R. § 923.135

  18. 16 U.S.C. § 1540(g)

  19. NOAA Office for Coastal Management, "CZMA Performance Measurement System,", https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/performance/

  20. 16 U.S.C. § 1456-1

  21. 16 U.S.C. § 1455

  22. NOAA Office for Coastal Management, "State and Territory Coastal Management Programs," accessed April 28, 202

  23. https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/act/sections/#1451

  24. https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/act/sections/#1454

  25. https://www.federalregister.gov/agencies/national-oceanic-and-atmospheric-administration

  26. https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/act/

  27. https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the CZMA. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.