Why coastal regulations fail

Bill Neal, Orrin Pilkey, Andrew Cooper, Norma Longo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


This perspective examines case examples, primarily from the U. S. Carolinas and Alabama, that illustrate some of the flaws of four federal programs of the last 50 years (National Flood Insurance Program, U. S. Coastal Barrier Resources Act, Coastal Area Management Act, Stafford Disaster Relief Act), as well as general reasons for state and local regulation failures. The latter include: variances that undercut the regulatory intent by the tyranny of small decisions, emergency dispensations, and compensatory mitigation; allowances for ‘temporary’ shore-hardening structures that become permanent; establishing control lines that are not adjusted to shifting shorelines; over-simplifying (one-size-fits-all) and misapplying (importing inappropriate strategies) regulations; conflicting jurisdictional boundaries; and the political instability of regulatory laws. Political-legislative realm failures include: 1) generalized laws do not match the complexity of coasts; 2) legislators lack the foresight to provide funding for regulatory monitoring/enforcement/penalties; 3) legislative bodies lack continuity of visions or goals for the future (e.g., overturn or weaken prior regulatory legislation); and 4) politicians are subject to conflicts of interest (e.g., affluent coastal land owners; pro-development lobbies). The political-legislative disconnect from the reality of Nature, and failure to use longer-term projections of erosion rates, sediment supply, and effects of sea-level rise, are the most frequent culprits in regulatory failure. New starting points for sound regulatory coastal management are better-informed politicians with the will to enact laws based on science that reflect natural variability, and laws that are unflawed by variances or over simplification. Regulations need to have continuity, proper funding, and enforcement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-34
JournalOcean and Coastal Management
Early online date23 May 2017
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 15 Apr 2018


  • Management
  • Regulations
  • Coastal zone
  • Alabama
  • North Carolina
  • Mining


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