Jump to Content

The Snail Darter and the Dam

March 11, 2014

Co-sponsored by American Rivers


It is one of the seminal cases in federal environmental law: Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153 (1978).  The Supreme Court enjoined completion of the almost-finished Tellico Dam under the Endangered Species Act because of impacts to the snail darter, an endangered fish. The case brought national attention, caused the Endangered Species Act to be revised, resulted in the formation of the “God Squad” of cabinet-level officials to review similar cases, and ultimately resulted in President Carter yielding to pork-barrel pressure, signing an appropriations rider waiving the law and mandating completion of the dam.

The story behind the case is told in a new book, The Snail Darter & the Dam, by TVA v. Hill plaintiff and law professor Zygmunt Plater. Professor Plater recounted the history and characters behind the case and how environmental law was made.

Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill is one of my favorite cases. This eminently readable account of the full history of the case is even more interesting than the story told in Warren Burger’s opinion for the Court (or in my memory of the oral argument and the shifting positions of the Justices in my book Five Chiefs)….”  • Hon. Justice John Paul Stevens

“The story of the snail darter and the TVA is the Thermopylae in the history of America's conservation movement, and this book by Zygmunt Plater deserves to be the classic telling of it.” • E. O. Wilson, Harvard University


ELI Seminars are made possible by the generous support of our members.
For more information on the many benefits of ELI individual membership, please go HERE.