Law School Case Brief
Tenn. Valley Auth. v. Hill - 437 U.S. 153, 98 S. Ct. 2279 (1978)
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), 16 U.S.C.S. § 1531 et seq., represents the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species ever enacted. Its stated purposes under 16 U.S.C.S. § 1531(b) are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, and to provide a program for the conservation of such species. Section 1531(c) states that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species. Under 16 U.S.C.S. § 1532(2), "conserve" means to use and the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this chapter are no longer necessary. Virtually all dealings with endangered species, including taking, possession, transportation, and sale, are prohibited under 16 U.S.C.S. § 1538, except in extremely narrow circumstances.
Petitioner Tennessee Valley Authority ("TVA") began constructing the Tellico Dam and Reservoir Project ("Dam") on a stretch of the Little Tennessee River ("River") in 1967, shortly after Congress appropriated initial funds for development. Subsequently, after passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C.S. § 1531 et seq.), the Secretary of the Interior, acting pursuant to 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C.S. § 1533), declared that a species of small fish popularly known as the "snail darter" was an "endangered species" under the Act. Having determined that the snail darter apparently lived only in that portion of the River which would be completely inundated by the reservoir created as a consequence of completion of the Dam, and that such impoundment of water would result in total destruction of the snail darter's habitat, the Secretary declared the area of the River that would be affected by the Dam to be the snail darter's "critical habitat" within the meaning of the Act. Pursuant to 7 of the Act (16 U.S.C.S. § 1536), the Secretary declared that all federal agencies had to take such action as necessary to ensure that actions by them did not destroy or modify the snail darter's critical habitat. Respondent Hill, joined by other individuals and environmental groups, filed an action in federal district court, as authorized by the Act, to enjoin completion of the Dam and impoundment of the reservoir on the ground that such would violate the Act by causing the snail darter's extinction. Despite finding that creation of the reservoir would possibly completely destroy the snail darter's critical habitat, making it highly probable that the darter's continued existence would be jeopardized, the district court refused an injunction and dismissed the complaint. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions that a permanent injunction issue so as to halt all activities incident to the Tellico Project that would destroy or modify the snail darter's critical habitat. TVA was granted a writ of certiorari.
Did the Endangered Species Act prohibit the TVA from impounding the river, notwithstanding that the Dam had been well under construction when the Act was passed and when the snail darter had been declared an endangered species?
On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the appellate court's judgment. The Court held that: (1) the Act prohibited the TVA from impounding the river, notwithstanding that the Dam had been well under construction when the Act was passed and when the snail darter had been declared an endangered species, and notwithstanding that Congress, in every year since the starting of the Dam (even after the Secretary took action under the Act) had appropriated funds for the Dam, as such continuances of appropriations did not constitute an implied repeal of the Act as to the Dam, and; (2) an injunction against completion of the Dam was the proper remedy.
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