Zygmunt Plater, professor of law at Boston College, gave the 2015 Odum Environmental Ethics Lecture, titled “The Snail Darter and the Dam: a very small endangered fish’s travels through the corridors of American power.” The event was co-sponsored by the Environmental Ethics Certificate Program and the Willson Center, with additional support from the Georgia Natural History Museum.
Plater’s latest book, The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork-Barrel Politics Endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River, was published by Yale University Press in 2013. It is his chronicle of a landmark case, Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill – better known as the “snail darter” case – which Plater argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978.
TVA v. Hill is often cited, especially by opponents to environmental regulations, as an example of overzealous enforcement of such policies – in this case, the Endangered Species Act. But the case involved numerous issues aside from the protection of the endangered fish by whose name it is known. Opposition to the construction of the Tellico Dam was also based on the project’s economic viability, as well as to the property rights of small farmers and other landowners.
The court ruled for the group of plaintiffs represented by Plater, but the dam was nonetheless completed the following year after the U.S. Congress passed an amendment to the Endangered Species Act, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, granting the TVA an exception to the act’s provisions.