The Cathedral Engulfed: Sea-Level Rise, Property Rights, and Time

51 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2012 Last revised: 8 Jun 2017

See all articles by J. Peter Byrne

J. Peter Byrne

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2012


Sea-level rise will require many new initiatives in land use regulation to adapt to unprecedented climate conditions. Such government actions will prompt regulatory and other takings claims, and also will be shaped by apprehension of such claims. This article analyzes the categories of land use regulations and other government initiatives likely to be enacted to adapt to sea-level rise and anticipates the takings claims that may be brought against them. In addition to hard and soft coastal armoring, the article considers regulations intended to force or induce development to retreat from rising waters. Retreat regulations present difficult takings problems, because they may prohibit all economically valuable development on a lot. But the article suggests various ways to capitalize on the future nature of sea-level rise to structure regulations and other government initiatives to minimize the risk or amount of takings liability. It argues that takings doctrine should not be so rigid as to prevent needed systematic adaptation.

Keywords: regulatory takings law, sea-level rise, economics, flood insurance, property rights, public use, eminent domain, land use planning, property law, environmental law

JEL Classification: K10, K11, K32

Suggested Citation

Byrne, J. Peter, The Cathedral Engulfed: Sea-Level Rise, Property Rights, and Time (2012). Louisiana Law Review, Vol. 73, pp. 69-118, 2012, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 12-174, Georgetown Law and Economics Research Paper No. 12-039, Available at SSRN:

J. Peter Byrne (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
(202)662-9066 (Phone)

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