The Snail Darter and the Dam - Plater, Zygmunt J. B. - Yale University Press

Political Science

The Snail Darter and the Dam

How Pork-Barrel Politics Endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River

  • Zygmunt J. B. Plater
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Watch Professor Zygmunt Plater's presentation at the Animal Law Review Symposium at the Lewis & Clark Law School.

Listen to Zygmunt Plater interviewed on Radio Boston.

Even today, thirty years after the legal battles to save the endangered snail darter, the little fish that blocked completion of a TVA dam is still invoked as an icon of leftist extremism and governmental foolishness. In this eye-opening book, the lawyer who with his students fought and won the Supreme Court case—known officially as Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill—tells the hidden story behind one of the nation’s most significant environmental law battles.

The realities of the darter’s case, Plater asserts, have been consistently mischaracterized in politics and the media. This book offers a detailed account of the six-year crusade against a pork-barrel project that made no economic sense and was flawed from the start. In reality TVA’s project was designed for recreation and real estate development. And at the heart of the little group fighting the project in the courts and Congress were family farmers trying to save their homes and farms, most of which were to be resold in a corporate land development scheme. Plater’s gripping tale of citizens navigating the tangled corridors of national power stimulates important questions about our nation’s governance, and at last sets the snail darter’s record straight.

Zygmunt J. B. Plater is professor of law and director of the Land & Environmental Law Program at Boston College Law School. He lives in Newton Highlands, MA.

See timelines, photographs, legal documents, and more at bc.edu/snaildarter. Discussion guides for readers, teachers, and students will be available in early 2015. They will facilitate analysis of a variety of the different challenges posed by the facts and politics of this memorable story. Topics will include grassroots citizen action, resource economics, congressional procedures and politics, the role and tactics of media coverage, environmental history, natural ethics and philosophy, how science is or isn't used by government, ecology and law, and more.