The Snail Darter and the Dam


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From a Boston College law professor, we hear the extraordinary story of one small fish and a huge environmental-legal battle. 30 years ago lawyers, activists and local citizens managed to halt construction of a federal dam project in Tennessee. They used the brand new Endangered Species Act to make the case that the dam would destroy the habitat of a tiny, three-inch fish, the Snail Darter.

Their case went all the way to the Supreme Court — and they won. But their victory didn’t last. Many cast it as environmentalism run amok, leftist extremism that values a tiny fish over jobs, development and progress. Congress took notice and passed a law that allowed the dam project to go forward.

Zygmunt Plater was the lawyer, who along with his students, fought and won the Supreme Court case. Today, he’s a professor of law and director of the Land & Environmental Law Program at Boston College. And his new book, The Snail Darter and The Dam, tells the story of how pork barrel politics killed a river.