Plater ’65 tells the story of the snail darter Supreme Court case

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Zygmunt J.B. Plater ’65 (Photo: Suzi Camarata)

New book: The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork-Barrel Politics Endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River, by Zygmunt J.B. Plater ’65 (Yale University Press)

 
The author: A law professor at Boston College Law School, Plater was petitioner and lead counsel in the Tennessee Valley Authority Tellico Dam Case. After the Exxon-Valdez disaster, he chaired Alaska’s Oil Spill Commission Legal Task Force.
 
The book: Thirty years ago Plater and his students at the University of Tennessee fought and won a Supreme Court case that pitted embattled Tennessee farmers against a “very dubious” federal dam project. They used the snail darter, a small fish, and the Endangered Species Act to save a threatened river. The media and critics ridiculed the case as environmentalism run amok. But he aims to set the record straight. The plan for the dam was flawed from the start, he argues. The citizens who fought it were not “wild-eyed environmentalists, but rather family farmers, most of whose lands were being condemned by the federal agency so they could be transferred to a Fortune 500 corporation for resale,” he writes. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the dam eventually was completed.
 

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Opening lines: “A packed crowd sits hunched forward on folding chairs in a big, stark meeting room at the Department of Interior headquarters in Washington. The ceiling lights glare above eight obviously important men who sit ill at ease at a long table at the front of the room, as several staffers with flip charts and an overhead projector present maps, chronologies, analytical data, and multiple columns of big numbers … These eight men are the members of the so-called God Committee, created by Congress ten weeks earlier to resolve the problem of a notorious lawsuit from Tennessee.”

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