A number of review articles have synthesized current expert opinion regarding interactions of ocean energy generation technologies with environmental parameters and their potential effects and impacts. Fewer articles have documented such interactions, as operational devices and or demonstration sites at which to make such observations are limited. In this paper, we discuss how the perceived risk or impact of ocean renewable energy development on coastal communities (both the human and marine biological communities) is a function not only of actual physical interactions but also depends on the regulatory environment and how potentially impacted coastal resources are valued by stakeholders. In this paper, we review potential environmental effects of ocean energy, identify applicable federal regulations that address potentially affected ecological components, and highlight observations about stakeholder concerns from experiences in Oregon. Understanding the societal lens through which potential environmental effects are viewed is important for developers to move forward as it will be the regulators and local communities who will determine if projects are permitted.