In 1967, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began work on the Tellico Dam and Reservoir Project on a stretch of the little Tennessee river. The dam and its reservoir were designed primarily for hydro – electric power, flood control, and recreation purposes; the project was also intended to spur economic development in the area around it in eastern Tennessee.
Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. That law declared that federal agencies cannot engage in any activities that threaten to destroy the natural habitat of any species of life that is in danger of extinction. Acting under the law in the late 1975, the secretary of the interior found (A) THAT THE SNAIL – DARTER – a tannish, three – inch species of perch – was close to extinction, (B) that the tiny fish lived only in the section of the Little Tennessee River to be flooded by the Tellico Dam, and (C) that completion of the dam would cause the total destruction of the snail darter’s habitat.
Despite the secretaries findings, TVA continued work on the nearly completed Tellico Project. That situation prompted several local residents to sue the agency in the U.S. district court in Tennessee. They lost there. But they took their arguments to the federal court of appeals, and won. TVA then carried the case to the U.S. Supreme court.
Arguments for the Tennessee Valley authority
- Congress appropriated money for work on the Tellico Project in every year that work was begun, including each year since passage of the Endangered Species Act. By doing so, Congress made the Tellico Project an exception to the1973 law.
- TVA is trying to find a new habitat for the snail – darter and so should be allowed to complete the dam and its reservoir.
- Congress did not intend that the 1973 law would affect those federal projects already underway and nearing completion.
Arguments for Hill
- Completion of the Tellico Project would amount to a clear violation of the Endangered Species Act.
- The argument that successive annual appropriations made the project an exception to the 1973 law is flawed. The rules of both houses of Congress declared that the making of an appropriation cannot work a change in the substance of any existing law.
- Congress passed the Endangered Species Act knowing that it would mean that some federal projects already underway would have to be altered, sometimes at great cost.
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