A Guide to the Shore Protection Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Shore Protection Act (SPA) is a crucial federal environmental regulation that safeguards the nation's coasts from the detrimental effects of unregulated waste dumping. This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of the SPA, offering a clear understanding of its regulatory scope, compliance requirements, and enforcement mechanisms. By exploring the Act's key provisions, such as its strict permitting process and prohibitions on certain activities and substances, readers will gain valuable insights into effectively navigating the complexities of coastal protection. The guide also highlights the SPA's interaction with other environmental regulations and agencies, emphasizing the importance of a collaborative approach to preserving our precious coastal resources. Through a thorough examination of the Act's history, recent developments, and additional resources, this guide serves as an indispensable tool for managing compliance, mitigating environmental risks, and contributing to the sustainable development of our nation's shorelines.


Key Details of the Shore Protection Act

  • Issuing Agency: United States Coast Guard
  • Year Established: 1988
  • Last Amended: 1996
  • Statutory Authority: Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act
  • Primary Legal Reference: Title 33, Chapter 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations

What is the Shore Protection Act?

The Shore Protection Act (SPA) is a federal environmental regulation that operates within the broader framework of the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act. The SPA was enacted in 1988 and significantly amended in 1996 to address the growing problem of marine debris and its impact on coastal environments, wildlife, and navigation safety.

The primary agencies involved in the administration and enforcement of the SPA are the United States Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Coast Guard is responsible for implementing and enforcing the regulations, while the EPA is tasked with developing standards for waste reception facilities at ports and terminals.

The SPA's general approach to achieving its goals is through the regulation of waste disposal practices by vessels in U.S. waters. It requires vessels to maintain waste management plans, utilize onboard waste treatment systems, and dispose of waste at designated reception facilities. The Act applies to all U.S. ports and navigable waterways, as well as to all vessels operating in these areas, with some exemptions for public vessels and certain small craft.

What does the Shore Protection Act protect?

The Shore Protection Act protects U.S. coastal environments, including beaches, estuaries, and marine habitats, from the harmful effects of vessel-generated waste. The Act specifically targets the discharge of plastics, garbage, and other pollutants from vessels, which can degrade water quality, harm marine life, and litter shorelines. By requiring vessels to manage their waste responsibly and dispose of it at designated facilities, the SPA helps to reduce marine debris and maintain the ecological integrity of coastal areas.


Regulated Activities, Entities & Prohibited Substances

The Shore Protection Act regulates activities and entities that involve the transportation and disposal of waste materials into coastal waters. This includes industries such as shipping, oil and gas, and waste management. The act specifically targets the dumping of materials that could harm marine ecosystems, such as dredged materials, industrial waste, and sewage sludge.

Under the Shore Protection Act, the following activities and substances are prohibited:

  1. Dumping of waste materials, including dredged spoils, industrial waste, and sewage sludge, into coastal waters without a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  2. Transporting waste materials for the purpose of dumping them into coastal waters.
  3. Disposing of materials that could potentially harm marine life, such as plastics, chemicals, and oil.

These prohibitions are in place to protect the delicate balance of marine ecosystems and prevent pollution that could have long-lasting impacts on coastal environments. By regulating the disposal of waste materials, the Shore Protection Act aims to maintain the health and vitality of the nation's coastal waters for future generations.

Key Sections of the Shore Protection Act

Section 1402 - Definitions

  • Defines key terms used throughout the act, such as "coastal waters," "waste materials," and "dumping."
  • Establishes the scope and applicability of the act.
  • Provides clarity on the types of activities and substances regulated under the act.

Section 1411 - Prohibited Acts

  • Prohibits the transportation and dumping of waste materials into coastal waters without a permit from the EPA.
  • Establishes criminal penalties for violations of the act, including fines and imprisonment.
  • Emphasizes the importance of compliance and the potential consequences of non-compliance.

Section 1412 - Permits

  • Outlines the process for obtaining a permit from the EPA to transport and dispose of waste materials in coastal waters.
  • Specifies the criteria the EPA must consider when evaluating permit applications, such as the impact on marine life and the availability of alternative disposal methods.
  • Provides guidance on the permit application process and the factors that influence permit decisions.

Section 1414 - Enforcement

  • Grants the EPA the authority to enforce the provisions of the act and investigate potential violations.
  • Allows for civil and criminal penalties for violations of the act, including fines and imprisonment.
  • Highlights the importance of proper enforcement to ensure compliance and protect coastal environments.

Relationship to Other Regulations & Agencies

The Shore Protection Act interacts with several other federal, state, and local regulations and agencies in the management and protection of coastal waters. At the federal level, the act complements the Clean Water Act1, which regulates the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters. The EPA is responsible for implementing and enforcing both the Shore Protection Act and the Clean Water Act.

The U.S. Coast Guard also plays a role in enforcing the Shore Protection Act by monitoring coastal waters for potential violations and assisting the EPA in investigations. Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is involved in the permitting process for the disposal of dredged materials, as required under the act.

At the state and local levels, many jurisdictions have their own regulations and agencies that work in conjunction with the Shore Protection Act to protect coastal waters. These agencies may have additional requirements or restrictions on the disposal of waste materials in coastal areas, and they often collaborate with federal agencies to ensure comprehensive protection of marine environments2.


Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Shore Protection Act and its implementing regulations establish various standards and limitations to protect coastal areas from pollution and environmental degradation. These include:

  1. Discharge Limits: The Act prohibits the discharge of any waste, including sewage, sludge, garbage, or other pollutants, into coastal waters without a permit.3

  2. Performance Standards: Facilities operating near coastal areas must meet specific performance standards for wastewater treatment, stormwater management, and erosion control to minimize their impact on the marine environment.4

  3. Buffer Zones: The regulations require the establishment of buffer zones or setbacks around sensitive coastal habitats, such as wetlands, dunes, and estuaries, to protect them from encroaching development.5

These standards are implemented through a combination of permits, which set specific limits and conditions for individual facilities, and general requirements that apply to all regulated entities. The relevant agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental departments, enforce these standards through regular inspections, monitoring, and reporting requirements.

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

Under the Shore Protection Act, regulated entities must comply with various monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements to ensure compliance and transparency. These obligations include:

  1. Monitoring: Facilities must conduct regular monitoring of their discharges, emissions, and environmental performance, using approved methods and equipment. This may include sampling of wastewater, stormwater, or receiving waters, as well as monitoring of air emissions or waste generation.6

  2. Reporting: Regulated entities must submit periodic reports to the relevant agencies, detailing their monitoring results, compliance status, and any instances of noncompliance. These reports may be required on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis, depending on the specific requirements of the permit or regulation.7

  3. Recordkeeping: Facilities must maintain accurate records of their monitoring data, reports, and other compliance-related information, and make these records available for inspection by the agencies upon request. The retention period for these records varies depending d on the type of information and the specific regulatory requirements, but typically ranges from three to five years.8

These monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping obligations are critical for ensuring that regulated entities are meeting the standards and limitations set by the Shore Protection Act, and for providing the agencies with the information needed to enforce the law and protect coastal resources.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

The relevant agencies, such as the EPA and state environmental departments, monitor compliance with the Shore Protection Act through a combination of routine inspections, targeted audits, and complaint-driven investigations.

Inspection TypeFrequencyScope
RoutineAnnually or semi-annually, depending on the facility's compliance history and risk profileComprehensive review of facility operations, records, and environmental performance
TargetedAs needed, based on specific concerns or priorities of the agencyFocused on particular aspects of compliance, such as wastewater treatment or stormwater management
Complaint-drivenIn response to citizen complaints or reports of potential violationsVaries depending on the nature and severity of the alleged violation

During inspections, regulated entities have the right to be present, to receive copies of any inspection reports, and to respond to any alleged violations. They also have the responsibility to provide access to the facility, records, and personnel needed for the inspection.

Violations of the Shore Protection Act can result in a range of enforcement actions and penalties, depending on the nature, severity, and duration of the violation.

Violation TypeExamplesPotential Penalties
AdministrativeFailure to submit required reports, minor exceedances of discharge limitsWarning letters, compliance orders, administrative fines up to $10,000 per day
CivilSignificant or repeated exceedances of discharge limits, failure to obtain required permitsCivil penalties up to $25,000 per day, injunctive relief, supplemental environmental projects
CriminalKnowing or willful violations, false statements or records, tampering with monitoring equipmentFines up to $50,000 per day, imprisonment up to 3 years, debarment from federal contracts

The severity of the penalty is influenced by factors such as the harm or risk to human health and the environment, the economic benefit derived from the violation, the compliance history of the regulated entity, and the cooperation and good faith efforts to correct the violation.9

Compliance Assistance & Regulatory Incentives

To help entities understand and comply with the Shore Protection Act, the relevant agencies offer a variety of compliance assistance programs and resources, including:

  • Technical Assistance: The EPA and state environmental departments provide guidance documents, fact sheets, and online tools to help regulated entities interpret and meet the requirements of the Act. These resources cover topics such as permit application processes, monitoring and reporting requirements, and best management practices for pollution prevention.

  • Training and Workshops: The agencies offer regular training sessions, workshops, and webinars to educate regulated entities and the public on the requirements of the Shore Protection Act and strategies for compliance. These events may be offered in person or online, and often include opportunities for Q&A and individualized assistance.

  • Compliance Assistance Centers: The EPA maintains a network of sector-specific Compliance Assistance Centers that provide tailored information, tools, and resources for industries suchoshi construction, agriculture, and transportation that may be subject to the Shore Protection Act and other environmental regulations.10

In addition to these assistance programs, there are also several regulatory incentives available to encourage entities to go beyond minimum compliance with the Shore Protection Act:

  • Clean Water State Revolving Fund: This federal-state partnership program provides low-interest loans and grants to support water quality improvement projects, including those that address nonpoint source pollution and protect coastal waters. Entities that demonstrate superior environmental performance or adopt innovative practices may receive priority for funding.11

  • Nonpoint Source Management Grants: These EPA grants support state, local, and tribal programs that reduce nonpoint source pollution, such as runoff from urban and agricultural areas, that can impact coastal waters. Entities that develop and implement comprehensive, watershed-based management plans may be eligible for grant funding.12

  • Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) Grants: These grants, administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), support state and territorial programs that protect and manage coastal resources. Entities that participate in these programs and demonstrate a commitment to sustainable coastal development may be eligible for funding or other incentives under the CZMA.13

To learn more about these assistance and incentive programs, entities can visit the websites of the EPA, NOAA, and their state environmental agencies, or contact the relevant program offices directly.


Regulatory History & Upcoming Changes

The Shore Protection Act (SPA) was enacted by Congress in 1988 as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act[^300]. The primary purpose of the SPA was to minimize coastal erosion and protect the nation's shores from the harmful effects of unregulated dumping of municipal and industrial waste[^301].

Key amendments to the SPA include:

  1. The 1996 Amendment: This amendment strengthened the enforcement provisions of the SPA and increased the penalties for violations[^302].
  2. The 2002 Amendment: This amendment expanded the jurisdiction of the SPA to include all U.S. territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)[^303].

The SPA has been effective in reducing the amount of waste dumped into U.S. coastal waters, but challenges remain in enforcing the (SPA) and addressing new sources of pollution, such as microplastics[^304].

Currently, there are no major proposed rules, regulatory changes, or pending legislation related to the SPA. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) continue to work on improving the implementation and enforcement of the regulations[^305].

To stay informed about any potential changes to the SPA, stakeholders can:

  • Monitor the Federal Register for proposed rules and notices related to the SPA[^306]
  • Subscribe to email updates from the EPA's Office of Water[^307]
  • Engage with industry associations and environmental organizations that track developments related to coastal protection and waste management[^308]

Additional Resources

  1. Full text of the Shore Protection Act [^309]
  2. EPA's Summary of the Shore Protection Act [^310]
  3. "The Shore Protection Act: A Review of Its Effectiveness and Challenges" by J. Smith, published in Coastal Management Journal, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 225-239, 2017[^312]

[^300]: Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-418, § 4001, 102 Stat. 1107, 1477-1480 (codified as amended at 33 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2623). [^301]: 33 U.S.C. § 2601. [^302]: Pub. L. No. 104-303, § 602, 110 Stat. 3658, 3792-3793 (1996). [^303]: Pub. L. No. 107-295, § 106, 116 Stat. 2064, 2086-2087 (2002). [^304]: J. Smith, "The Shore Protection Act: A Review of Its Effectiveness and Challenges," Coastal Management Journal, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 225-239, 2017. [^305]: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Summary of the Shore Protection Act," https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-shore-protection-act. [^306]: Federal Register, https://www.federalregister.gov/. [^307]: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Shore Protection Act," https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-shore-protection-act. [^308]: Examples include industry associations and environmental organizations. [^309]: Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-418, § 4001, 102 Stat. 1107, 1477-1480 (codified as amended at 33 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2623), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-102/pdf/STATUTE-102-Pg4396.pdf. [^310]: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Summary of the Shore Protection Act," https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-shore-protection-act. [^312]: J. Smith, "The Shore Protection Act: A Review of Its Effectiveness and Challenges," Coastal Management Journal, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 225-239, 2017.


  1. Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1387 (1972). https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act

  2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "Coastal Zone Management Act." https://coast.noaa.gov/czm/act/

  3. 33 U.S.C. § 1411

  4. 40 C.F.R. § 125.120-124

  5. 15 C.F.R. § 923.23

  6. 40 C.F.R. § 122.48

  7. 40 C.F.R. § 122.41(l)

  8. 40 C.F.R. § 122.41(j)

  9. 33 U.S.C. § 1415

  10. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021). Compliance Assistance Centers. https://www.epa.gov/compliance/compliance-assistance-centers

  11. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021). Learn about the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). https://www.epa.gov/cwsrf/learn-about-clean-water-state-revolving-fund-cwsrf

  12. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021). 319 Grant Program for States and Territories. https://www.epa.gov/nps/319-grant-program-states-and-territories

  13. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (202 Air and Space Museum.-----------*/

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the Shore Protection Act. 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.