The Tidelands Controversy Revisited

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The tidelands controversy deals with the struggle between the federal and coastal state governments over the ownership of offshore submerged lands, with the primary concern being the control of offshore energy resources. Since independence, coastal states believed that they held title to their offshore lands under colonial charters. Coastal states subsequently admitted into the Union were entitled to make similar claims under the equal footing clause. In 1947, the Supreme Court dispelled this belief by declaring that the federal government held paramount rights in offshore lands which included dominion over the resources located therein. The Submerged Lands Act was enacted to reverse the Supreme Court's decision and to restore title to the coastal states to submerged lands within their historic boundaries. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court continued to uphold federal claims by utilizing international law, not history and equity, to interpret the Submerged Lands Act. The Submerged Lands Act should be amended or an outer continental shelf revenue sharing program should be established in order to rectify or mitigate these erroneous judicial decisions.

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