Lora Naismith

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Chicago-Kent Journal of Environmental and Energy Law


The numerous effects of anthropogenic climate change, including sea-level rise, continue to make global changes to our environment. With greenhouse gas emissions come warmer temperatures, melting glaciers, and a higher sealevel. In an attempt to address the rising sea, communities have the option to protect the shoreline, alter structures to be able to remain in the area, or abandon the area as the sea rises. The Texas coast alone is home to roughly 6.5 million people and provides jobs to nearly 2.5 million of those people. As the sea continues to rise, the Texas coast is subject to more severe storms, flooding, and coastline loss. The coastal economy includes various industries that generate billions of dollars in revenue and has ports that are essential for national exporting. As the sea begins to encroach on coastal properties, these industries, as well as the interests of both private property owners and the general public with access to the waterfront, are at risk. However, protecting the coast and balancing the interests of these parties leads to numerous lawsuits and litigation. The Texas Open Beaches Act was an attempt to codify traditional common law doctrines of public trust and rolling easements, which were generally interpreted in favor of the public. However, the 2012 Texas Supreme Court decision in Severance v. Patterson favored the rights of the private property owner over the public’s access to beaches. Because alternative measures to mitigate sea-level rise from impacting waterfront properties can have detrimental ecological effects on the coastal environment, Texas should implement a regulatory scheme that addresses these potential issues. The Texas Coastal Resiliency Plan discusses numerous coastal concerns and outlines several projects to restore Texas coastlines. While this plan aims to protect the coast and its numerous industries, it does not consider how the projects affect property rights. To remedy this, Texas communities should establish regulations that protect public access easements, develop more stringent construction setbacks or permitting procedures, and require more risk disclosure for potential property owners buying coastal properties.

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Chicago-Kent College of Law

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