Evolution of Coastal Environmental Policies

By: Savanna Ronco

Look at the evolution of coastal environmental policies from early 1900’s to the present try to identify several of the most apparent trends and discontinuities. What was happening to the relationship between the coastal U.S. population, the government, and the environment? How would you divide that history into episodes? What were the driving issues and concerns? Who were the most important players in setting the environmental agenda during those episodes? Write a 500-word response paper answering these questions.

The coast is substantially more crowded than the United States as a whole, with 39 percent of the nation’s total population living in costal counties. According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau, there was an increase of 34.8 million people living on the coasts from 1970 to 2010. It is projected that by 2020, there will be an additional 37 persons per square mile living on the coast.

Because of this increase in population, the government felt a need to regulate certain costal environmental policies. One of the first of the modern environmental statutes was the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. It created environmental policies and goals for the country and established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality. It also required that federal agencies conduct thorough assessments of the environmental impacts of all major activities funded by the federal government. The Clean Water Act and Coastal Zone Management Act both followed in 1972, establishing standards for water quality and purity and protecting the U.S. coastal zones from environmentally harmful overdevelopment. The Coastal Zone Management Act also provided federal funding for states to implement measures to conserve coastal areas.

The mid-1970’s brought the Endangered Species Act and the Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, showing that the federal government was not only worried about regulating policies dealing with citizens, but also animals, especially those that were endangered. These acts also prevented overharvesting fish, which helps people whose careers rely on fisheries located on the coast.

The Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate toxic chemicals in every stage from manufacturing to distribution. A decade later, in 1986, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act was passed, requiring companies to disclose information about any toxic chemicals they release, whether in the air or water. The same year, California passed a law called Proposition 65, known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. This act was designed to provide public warning about potential exposure to toxic chemicals in their water. It helped make California a model for other coastal states dealing with these types of environmental problems.

Then, in March 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, dumping 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil into the water over the course of several days. This disaster led to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which outlines the federal response to future oil spills. This act requires oil storage facilities and vessels to prepare spill-response plans and be able to implement these plans quickly if disaster strikes. It also increased liability on the spiller’s part in the cost of cleanup and damage to natural resources.

In recent history, April 2010, the BP Oil Spill occurred, causing massive devastation to the Gulf of Mexico and southern costal states. The oil gushed into the Gulf for 87 days. By three years later, in 2013, Congress had only passed one piece of legislation in response to the spill, called the RESTORE Act. This act basically worked to hold the parties responsible for the spill also responsible for the cleanup and restoration of the Gulf.

Now, find a new development regarding the coastal environment that has raised public fears or concern; and research the issue and decide whether the concerns are warranted. Why? Why not? Write a 350-word editorial piece, using logic and evidence to persuade your audience of your opinion. Post your responses on our class blog under a single post. (Note: blog post counts only toward writing assignment grade, not toward the 5 regular blog post requirement).

It’s easy to see why a person would want to live by the sea. Not only is there beautiful views and delicious seafood, there are tons of job opportunities, especially in popular tourist hotspots. In fact, 39 percent of the nation’s total population lives in costal counties. According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau, there was an increase of 34.8 million people living on the coasts from 1970 to 2010. It is projected that by 2020, there will be an additional 37 persons per square mile living on the coast.

On top of the larger number of people residing on the coast, 80 percent of all US tourism takes place in coastal areas, especially on beaches and around coral reefs. Large tourism has brought heavy development to these coastal areas, inevitably causing problems over the years. The vast number of hotel and restaurant chains trying to make it in coastal areas has caused overdevelopment and, in many cases, destroyed local culture.

Though tourism is sometimes a good thing for a community’s economy, it can be dangerous for the coastal environment. Tourists add to the pollution, waste and water needs of the local coastal populations. Also, coastal areas are transitional areas between the land and sea and are very high in biodiversity but are also some of the most fragile ecosystems on Earth. Heavy urbanization on coastal lands can cause habitat loss in the region. Some locations are already damaged beyond repair. With tons of hotels, casinos, and restaurants opening up along the coast, the natural resources of the land are slowly being diminished.

Other problems resulting from heavy coastal tourism include: loss of marine resources due to destruction of coral reefs and overfishing, pollution of marine and freshwater resources, soil degradation and loss of land resources, air pollution, loss of cultural resources, social disruption, loss of public access, natural hazards and even climate change.

Though it may seem like this is an unsolvable problem, there are steps that coastal communities can take to decrease community harm brought on by tourism. This calls for better government regulation of costal tourism policies. Maybe it is necessary to limit the number of hotels that can be built in a certain area, therefore limiting the number of people able to stay in one place. Also, people need to increase their education on the environment. Too many tourists litter and pollute coastal towns, absentmindedly not caring about a town that they don’t actually live in. If coastal communities work to set up recycling bins and/or environmental propaganda like signs saying “keep our beaches clean,” it might help tourists to do their part in keeping the community clean.


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