New Report Offers Legal Tools to Limit Risks of Climate Change for Coastal Communities

Handbook Published by Columbia Law School's Center for Climate Change Law Outlines Options for Managed Coastal Retreat

New York, October 30, 2013—State and municipal governments across the United States can employ a variety of legal tools to discourage or prevent development or redevelopment along risky coasts, according to a new study released by the Columbia Law School Center for Climate Change Law on the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the New York metropolitan area and caused $65 billion in damages in 2012. 

Managed retreat—the planned process of moving development away from vulnerable areas—is a controversial concept as many homeowners would prefer to rebuild after a destructive storm and to rely on protective structures, such as seawalls, to prevent future damage. But constructing expensive infrastructure often can raise the cost of future disasters. Policymakers increasingly will need to restrict allowed land uses to limit exposure to coastal hazards, save lives, and reduce the expenditure of public funds.
The Center for Climate Change Law’s report, Managed Coastal Retreat: A Legal Handbook on Shifting Development Away from Vulnerable Areas, describes legal principles and precedents that can serve as useful guides for the creation of new policies. The handbook also compiles and examines case studies and makes recommendations based on the experiences of numerous states and municipalities who have faced destructive storms and other natural hazards and implemented managed retreat to protect against future disasters.
Tools include:
  • Coastal planning
  • Setbacks and rolling easements
  • Prohibiting coastal armoring
  • Rebuilding restrictions
  • Acquisition
In addition to describing existing legal tools and state and local laws and regulations, the handbook details implementing policies that have affected the success or failure of each managed retreat strategy. The guide also identifies lessons that can help other communities improve their efforts. The handbook is intended primarily as a resource for state and local policy makers with populations along coasts and rivers, but the information also may prove useful for communities facing other natural hazards.
The report was written by Anne Siders, former associate director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Climate Change Law, under the direction of Professor Michael B. Gerrard, the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice and the center’s director. Columbia Law School students, including participants in the Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic, also helped prepare the report.