Ethics: Tellico Dam Construction vs. Snail Darter Fish


There are no good reasons to delay or cancel the construction of the Tellico Dam on the Little Mississippi River. The biggest issue that I have with how the current situation is unfolding is that the Endangered Species Act and its proponents seek to find the underlying moral principles that would be objective and true at all times. A good share of sentiment around the snail darter case revolves around what ethical and unethical to do in a situation where a fish species might go extinct. I fail to see how morals can be applied to a situation that is downright practical since the construction of the Tellico dam pursues financial benefits and economic prosperity as the key goals. The very notion of objective morality is superficial: there are no moral truths that can be matched to moral judgments. Therefore, when the opponents of the Tellico dam construction appeal to ethics, they might as well appeal to nothing. Any opinion on the case is highly subjective and should be exposed to criticism.

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In this argument, the good that the Tellico dam might bring to Tennessee residents is contrasted to the value of an animal species as is. Value is a strictly human concept that barely has any place in the animal kingdom. Besides, the argument is unfolding between two groups of people were the subject of the argument has not and cannot have any say. In this case, it is only natural to assess the value of each of the two options: a) preserving the fish species; b) bringing more jobs and electricity to the region. Here, we run into the issue of prudential value that defines what is best for people when we are doing something for their sake. There are two approaches to the subject matter – subject-relativity and normativity. According to the former, knowing that the snail darter is saved may positively affect someone’s well-being. However, it is readily imaginable how low the probability of this event is. On the other hand, according to the normativity approach, the quality of life can be defined using basic concepts such as safety and security. Those can be ensured if the Tellico dam construction continues.

Debunking Possible Arguments

Surely, the position that I have expressed might generate controversy and draw criticism. However, as far as my understanding of the situation goes, any argument against the Tellico dam can be debunked with ease. The biggest concern that people seem to be having is the discovery of an endangered species around the construction site. The sentiment of the issue allows the opponents of the TVA to extrapolate it onto the entire animal kingdom: if the snail darter goes extinct, the same can happen to other species. This fear is understandable; however, to draw any meaningful conclusions, we have yet to understand the situation in its entirety. The construction site occupies a minor part of the river. Therefore, the question arises as to whether the snail darter inhabits other parts of the LIttle Mississippi river, where it can live peacefully and be preserved. Scientific investigation might justify a delay in construction on the premise that the results will be conclusive. To proceed, both the TVA and the government need to know the exact population of the snail darter and its habitats in Tennessee.

The second argument against the Tellico dam construction concerns the role of the snail darter in the ecological system of the Little Mississippi River. So far, the investigators have not found if this particular species is of any great importance and contributes greatly to maintaining the balance. Therefore, we cannot say that the entire ecosystem would fall apart if it were to go extinct. A related concern is that of the possible exploitation of the snail darter for scientific purposes. It is no secret that sometimes, the most obscure and humble species serve scientists on their noble mission. They may be used for laboratory samples and testing of different substances and materials. Again, the snail darter has never found application in research; thus, its usefulness for humankind, if not for the ecosystem, is dubious. Apart from that, delaying or canceling construction on the premise that a particular species might have untapped potential is far from sustainable.

Third, the opponents of the Tellico dam may argue that the TVA must comply with the law, namely, the Endangered Species Act of 1973. To this, I must state that the law was passed four years after the construction started, and by then, a good share of work had been completed. Further, the law itself raises doubts: it has already been called an act of environmental extremism. Personally, I can foresee many ways in which the Act can be abused to benefit some companies and hurt others. Plenty of terms and definitions that the Act employs are open to interpretation. For instance, it is not entirely clear what makes a species threatened or endangered, which are two different degrees or statuses assigned to an animal or a plant. Another obscure concept is that of critical habitats: potentially, any area can be recognized as critical, which may lead to delays and cancellations for those companies that are in the process of modernizing it.

It seems that the TVA fell victim to the misinterpretation and now has to pay the price. If the construction is disrupted and eventually brought to a halt, the case will create a legal precedent that will later be used in court rulings. This might start a wave of unfair decisions and discriminations against both public and private companies. Yet, ultimately, not only will the companies fail to reap the benefits. The industries might turn their backs on the state of Tennessee, which will only aggravate the unemployment issue. In summation, canceling the construction now might seem to be a morally righteous decision. However, in the long term, it will only punish companies and deprive them of economic incentives to innovate and improve people’s lives.

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"Ethics: Tellico Dam Construction vs. Snail Darter Fish." StudyCorgi, 14 June 2021,

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StudyCorgi. "Ethics: Tellico Dam Construction vs. Snail Darter Fish." June 14, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Ethics: Tellico Dam Construction vs. Snail Darter Fish." June 14, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Ethics: Tellico Dam Construction vs. Snail Darter Fish'. 14 June.

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