Boston College Law Professor Discusses Seminal Environmental Law Case
Harrisburg Correspondent and Web Editor - Published: April 11, 2014
On Tuesday, April 8th, Widener Law’s Harrisburg campus welcomed Boston College Law School Professor Zygmunt J.B. Plater for the final talk in the Spring 2014 Environmental Law Distinguished Speaker Series.

Plater’s talk, “TVA v. Hill: A Little Fish in a Pork Barrel,” focused on his work as part of Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hiram Hill, et al., a case involving the Endangered Species Act that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978. Plater and his students at the time used the then-new Endangered Species Act to argue that the construction of a dam in Tennessee would destroy the habitat of the tiny snail darter fish. Plater and his students won the case before the Supreme court, though the project was later able to proceed as a result of legislation passed by Congress.

“This case was a joy, blessing, and a curse, taking 6 years of the lives of my students and me. It taught me and my students things we had never learned in political science in our college or in law school,” Plater said of the experience, which prompted him to write “The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork Barrel Politics Endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River.”

Plater shared some background on the case and discussed and discussed some of the lessons he learned. Noting that the case was originally brought by a coalition of farmers, fishermen, history buffs, and environmentalists, Plater related that the American legal system allows citizens from any walk of life to walk into court and take on the role of private attorneys-general to enforce public laws.

Distinguished Professor John C. Dernbach, co-Director of Widener Law’s Environmental Law Center, said of Plater, “Professor Plater achieved a great deal for endangered species protection in general with this case, even though Congress exempted this project from the Act.”

A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, Zygmunt J. B. Plater teaches and researches in the areas of environmental, property, land use, and administrative agency law. In addition to his work on TVA v. Hill, Plater served as chairman of the State of Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s Legal Task Force over a two-year period after the wreck of the M/V Exxon-Valdez.