Willimantic, CT. –Zygmunt J. B Plater, author of “The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork Barrel Politics Endangered A Little Fish and Killed A River,” spoke at Eastern Connecticut State University on April 1 about his book and the historic Supreme Court case on which it’s based.
Plater, now a distinguished law professor at Boston College, was the lead attorney in the fight to save the Little Tennessee River. Accompanied by students, lawyers and activists, managed to temporarily halt the construction of a federal dam project by invoking the Endangered Species Act. The building of the Tellico dam would not only have flooded 330 farms but would have forced the snail darter, a one-and-a-half inch fish into extinction. The dam would have stopped the natural current, allowing mud to pile up where the darters bury their eggs, leading to suffocation. At the time, the river was the only known habitat for the snail darter. According to Plater, “The little Tennessee River was the best trout stream east of Montana.”
Plater discussed the story behind the court case of 1978, “Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill,” describing how a small group of individuals who lacked financial and political support worked their way to the Supreme Court and caused a major halt to the hydroelectric dam project. He went on to describe how many individuals weren’t sympathetic to the snail darters, referring to them as “stupid little fish.” He read quotes from conservatives revealing their views on the issue. “My favorite is a Rush Limbaugh quote, ‘A huge hydroelectric dam was halted by a tiny stupid fish, environmental extremism and deviated homo-socialists!’ I don’t even know what a homo-socialist is,” said Plater.
With an endangered species at risk, Plater was able to build a strong case against TVA and the Tellico Dam. “Everything is connected to everything else, the snail darter was connected to the river, which connected to the farmers,” said Plater. “Since only the snail darter got public attention, we lost the case, leading to a loss of 330 family farms and the near extinction of the fish.”
This case is considered one of the most important environmental cases ever, and still resonates today, with environmentalists continuing efforts to protect and restore endangered species and ecosystems. “I wanted to share this with all the twists and turns to bring America to recognize the reality of this story and the world we live in,” said Plater. “Hopefully my journey will help prevent similar reoccurrences in the future.”