The Delaware Coastal Zone Act was signed into law by Governor Russell Peterson in an effort to “protect Delaware’s coastal area from the destructive impacts of heavy industrialization and offshore bulk product transfer facilities.” It has been 46 years since that act was created and now there is a new bill that is being considered by the Senate that will reopen the are to industrial development.

Delaware Coastal Zone Act

The Delaware Coastal Zone Act became a law on June 28, 1971. It was decided at the time that Delaware’s coastal areas were at risk due to heavy industrialization.

The two main goals of the Act were:
1) To preserve the coastal environment
2) To promote recreation and tourism in the area

New industrial development in the designated coastal zone was prohibited under the Delaware Coastal Zone Act. Those who receive a Coastal Zone Act Permit are still allowed to build light manufacturing facilities and to expand existing light manufacturing plants or heavy industrial uses that were in place before the Act was passed. Permits are administered by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

Regulating the Act

The Act initially had no regulations to guide in its administration by the Secretary of the DNREC. A set of regulations was proposed in 1993 by the State Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board, but they were rejected after allegations that they had been voted on without the required public notice. It took another six years before regulations were passed. The official Coastal Zone Regulations of 1999 were considered to be an effective compromise between environmentalist groups and industry developers.

The regulations:
Gave increased flexibility to developers

  • Required permits to be pro-environment
  • Required applicants to develop offset proposals
  • Reduced the need to acquire permits for small changes in production
  • Clarified expectations to industrialists as well as administators

Proposal of a Modifying Bill

State Representative Ed Osienski, a Democrat, is the main sponsor of the new bill regarding the state’s coast. He said about the bill that: “I wanted to be able to thread the needle between creating some jobs in the coastal zone and also protecting our pristine coastline.”

The bill was initially proposed in May of 2017. It was praised by Delaware’s Governor, John C. Carney Jr. The Democratic governor believes it will allow for the creation of new jobs for the communities along the coast. It also has the backing of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce for the same reason.

What the Bill Will Do

If it is passed, the new bill will:

  • Affect 14 sites on the Delaware coast
  • Allow the DNREC to issue permits for industrial development
  • Allow the transfer of bulk products at sites with docking facilities that were in place before the Delaware Coastal Zone Act of 1971

While the new bill does allow for much more industrial development than has been allowed under the Act, it does not completely reverse all of it. There are several things that are still banned under the bill, including:

  • Oil refineries
  • Liquefied natural gas terminals
  • Pulp paper mills
  • Incinerators
  • Steel manufacturing plants

Passing the Bill

The bill has already been passed by the State House in a 34-to-7 vote. It is currently being looked over by the Delaware Senate. Meanwhile, environmental groups continue to oppose the bill. They are concerned that it could lead to environmental damage in the coastal areas where the bill will allow industrial actions that have been banned since 1971.

Labor unions argue that the Act has had a detrimental effect on the economy and the job market. They say that there will still be protections in place under the new bill that will prevent environmental damage while still allowing for job growth.

It is up to the Senate now to decide the fate of this bill. Their session is nearly over, so they are expected to reach a decision in the near future.

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