437 U.S. 153 (1978), 76-1701, Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill

Docket Nº:No. 76-1701
Citation:437 U.S. 153, 98 S.Ct. 2279, 57 L.Ed.2d 117
Party Name:Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill
Case Date:June 15, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 153

437 U.S. 153 (1978)

98 S.Ct. 2279, 57 L.Ed.2d 117

Tennessee Valley Authority



No. 76-1701

United States Supreme Court

June 15, 1978

Argued April 18, 1978




The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act) authorizes the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) in § 4 to declare a species of life "endangered." Section 7 specifies that all

Federal departments and agencies shall, . . . with the assistance of the Secretary, utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of [the] Act bye carrying out programs for the conservation of endangered species . . . and by taking such action necessary to insure that actions authorized, funded, or carried out by them do not jeopardize the continued existence of such endangered species and threatened species or result in the destruction or modification of habitat of such species which is determined by the Secretary . . . to be critical.

Shortly after the Act's passage, the Secretary was petitioned to list a small fish popularly known as the snail darter as an endangered species under the Act. Thereafter, the Secretary made the designation. Having determined that the snail darter apparently lives only in that portion of the Little Tennessee River that would be completely inundated by the impoundment of the reservoir created as a consequence of the completion of the Tellico Dam, he declared that area as the snail darter's "critical habitat." Notwithstanding the near completion of the multimillion dollar dam, the Secretary issued a regulation in which it was declared that, pursuant to § 7,

all Federal agencies must take such action as is necessary to ensure that actions authorized, funded, or carried out by them do not result in the destruction or modification of this critical habitat area.

Respondents brought this suit to enjoin completion of the dam and impoundment of the reservoir, claiming that those actions would violate the Act by causing the snail darter's extinction. The District Court, after trial, denied relief and dismissed the complaint. Though finding that the impoundment of the reservoir would probably jeopardize the snail darter's continued existence, the court noted that Congress, though fully aware of the snail darter problem, had continued Tellico's appropriations, and concluded that,

[a]t some point in time, a federal project becomes so near completion and so incapable of modification that a court of equity should not apply a statute enacted long after inception of the project to produce an unreasonable result. . . .

The Court of Appeals reversed. and

Page 154

ordered the, District Court permanently to enjoin completion of the project

until Congress, by appropriate legislation, exempts Tellico from compliance with the Act or the snail darter has been deleted from the list of endangered species or its critical habitat materially redefined.

The court held that the record [98 S.Ct. 2282] revealed a prima facie violation of § 7 in that the Tennessee Valley Authority had failed to take necessary action to avoid jeopardizing the snail darter's critical habitat by its "actions." The court thus rejected the contention that the word "actions," as used in § 7, was not intended by Congress to encompass the terminal phases of ongoing projects. At various times before, during, and after the foregoing judicial proceedings, TVA represented to congressional Appropriations Committees that the Act did not prohibit completion of the Tellico Project. and described its efforts to transplant the snail darter. The Committees consistently recommended appropriations for the dam, sometimes stating their views that the Act did not prohibit completion of the dam at its advanced stage, and Congress each time approved TVA's general budget, which contained funds for the dam's continued construction.


1. The Endangered Species Act prohibits impoundment of the Little Tennessee River by the Tellico Dam. Pp. 172-193.

(a) The language of § 7 is plain, and makes no exception such as that urged by petitioner whereby the Act would not apply to a project like Tellico that was well under way when Congress passed the Act. Pp. 172-174.

(b) It is clear from the Act's legislative history that Congress intended to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction -- whatever the cost. The pointed omission of the type of qualified language previously included in endangered species legislation reveals a conscious congressional design to give endangered species priority over the "primary missions" of federal agencies. Congress, moreover, foresaw that § 7 would, on occasion, require agencies to alter ongoing projects in order to fulfill the Act's goals. Pp. 174-187.

(c) None of the limited "hardship exemptions" provided in the Act would even remotely apply to the Tellico Project. P. 188.

(d) Though statements in Appropriations Committee Reports reflected the view of the Committees either that the Act did not apply to Tellico or that the dam should be completed regardless of the Act's provisions, nothing in the TVA appropriations measures passed by Congress stated that the Tellico Project was to be completed regardless of the Act's requirements. To find a repeal under these circumstances, as petitioner has urged, would violate the "`cardinal rule . . . that repeals by implication are not favored.'" Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535, 549. The

Page 155

doctrine disfavoring repeals by implication applies with full vigor when the subsequent legislation is an appropriations measure. When voting on appropriations measures, legislators are entitled to assume that the funds will be devoted to purposes that are lawful, and not for any purpose forbidden. A contrary policy would violate the express rules of both Houses of Congress, which provide that appropriations measures may not change existing substantive law. An appropriations committee's expression does not operate to repeal or modify substantive legislation. Pp. 189-193.

2. The Court of Appeals did not err in ordering that completion of the Tellico Dam, which would have violated the Act, be enjoined. Congress has spoken in the plainest words, making it clear that endangered species are to be accorded the highest priorities. Since that legislative power has been exercised, it is up to the Executive Branch to administer the law, and for the Judiciary to enforce it when, as here, enforcement has been sought. Pp. 193-194.

549 F.2d 1064, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 195. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 211.

Page 156

BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The questions presented in this case are (a) whether the Endangered Species Act of [98 S.Ct. 2283] 1973 requires a court to enjoin the operation of a virtually completed federal dam -- which had been authorized prior to 1973 -- when, pursuant to authority vested in him by Congress, the Secretary of the Interior has determined that operation of the dam would eradicate an endangered species; and (b) whether continued congressional appropriations for the dam after 1973 constituted an implied repeal of the Endangered Species Act, at least as to the particular dam.


The Little Tennessee River originates in the mountains of northern Georgia and flows through the national forest lands of North Carolina into Tennessee, where it converges with the Big Tennessee River near Knoxville. The lower 33 miles of the Little Tennessee takes the river's clear, free-flowing waters through an area of great natural beauty. Among other environmental amenities, this stretch of river is said to contain abundant trout. Considerable historical importance attaches to the areas immediately adjacent to this portion of the Little Tennessee's banks. To the south of the river's edge lies Fort Loudon, established in 1756 as England's southwestern outpost in the French and Indian War. Nearby are also the ancient sites of several native American villages, the archaeological stores of which are, to a large extent, unexplored.1 These include the Cherokee towns of Echota and Tennase, the former

Page 157

being the sacred capital of the Cherokee Nation as early as the 16th century and the latter providing the linguistic basis from which the State of Tennessee derives its name.2

In this area of the Little Tennessee River, the Tennessee Valley Authority, a wholly owned public corporation of the United States, began constructing the Tellico Dam and Reservoir Project in 1967, shortly after Congress appropriated initial funds for its development.3 Tellico is a multipurpose regional development project designed principally to stimulate shoreline development, generate sufficient electric current to heat 20,000 homes,4 and provide flat-water recreation and flood control, as well as improve economic conditions in "an area characterized by underutilization of human resources and outmigration of young people." Hearings on Public Works for Power and Energy Research Appropriation Bill, 1977, before a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, 94th Cong., 2d Sess., pt. 5, p. 261 (1976). Of particular relevance to this case is one aspect of the project, a dam which TVA determined to place on the Little Tennessee, a short distance from where the river's waters meet with the Big Tennessee. When fully operational, the dam would impound water covering some 16,500 acres -- much of which represents valuable and productive farmland -- thereby converting the river's shallow, fast-flowing waters into a deep reservoir over 30 miles in length.

The Tellico Dam has never opened, however, despite the fact that construction has been virtually...

To continue reading