Tennessee Valley Auth. v. Hill,
437 U.S. 153 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Tennessee Valley Auth. v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153 (1978)

Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill

No. 76-1701

Argued April 18, 1978

Decided June 15, 1978

437 U.S. 153


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 by 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 437 U. S. 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 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. 437 U. S. 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. 437 U. S. 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. 437 U. S. 174-187.

(c) None of the limited "hardship exemptions" provided in the Act would even remotely apply to the Tellico Project. P. 437 U. S. 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, 417 U. S. 549. The

Page 437 U. S. 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. 437 U. S. 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. 437 U. S. 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. 437 U. S. 195. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 437 U. S. 211.

Page 437 U. S. 156

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