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Young v. Tennessee Valley Auth.

Citation: 9 ELR 20713
No. No. 77-1243, 606 F.2d 143/(6th Cir., 04/20/1979)

The court rules that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has the authority under the TVA Act of 1933, 16 U.S.C. § 831 et seq., to construct a nuclear power plant on a site located outside the watershed of the Tennessee River. The TVA Act created TVA to promote agricultural and industrial development in the Tennessee River Valley and gave it the authority to acquire land for the construction of power facilities "at any point along the Tennessee River, or any of its tributaries." Appellants, owners of a farm near the proposed plant, sought to block site preparation and condemnation of land for the plant, which will be located within the larger service area. The district court denied the motion for an injunction and dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals notes that TVA's condemnation and construction powers could be read narrowly to limit such activities to the banks of the Tennessee River and its tributaries, or broadly, to encompass any facility that will foster Tennessee River Valley development. The court grants great weight to TVA's broad construction of the Act because of its consistency and longevity and the reliance placed upon it since the early 1950s. In addition, Congress has been aware of TVA's interpretation and has ratified it through committee hearings and appropriations of funds for specific projects outside the Tennessee River watershed and the larger TVA service area. Congressional appropriations for agency action, with the knowledge of the agency's interpretation of its enabling act, have the effect of ratifying the agency action when the interpretation is consistent with the statute's purpose. Thus, the court declines to find that TVA has incorrectly constructed an ambiguous statute for 29 years while it otherwise has faithfully fulfilled the purposes of the Act, particularly when previous Sixth Circuit decisions have affirmed the exercise of TVA's authority to the same extent as presented in this case.

In dissent, Judge Celebrezze interprets the clear statutory language to limit TVA's ability to condemn land for power facilities to points along the Tennessee River or its tributaries. Second, the dissent looks to TVA v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 8 ELR 20513 (1978), aff'g 549 F.2d 1064, 7 ELR 20172 (6th Cir. 1977), as standing for the proposition that congressional appropriations cannot amend or repeal other congressional enactments. Further, the court should not defer to an agency's interpretation of the statutory authority allegedly given it by Congress. Finally, the Sixth Circuit's prior decisions are distinguishable on the facts and need not be overruled in order to reverse the lower court in this instance.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (13 pp. $1.75, ELR Order No. C-1195).

Counsel for Appellants
Robert B. Pyle
1700 Hayes St., Suite 204, Nashville TN 37203
(615) 320-5768

Leroy J. Ellis, III
Omer, Ellis, Brabson and Stephenson
421 Charlotte Ave., Nashville TN 37219
(615) 244-7271

Counsel for Appellees
Herbert Sanger, Jr., General Counsel; Charles A. Wagner, III, Justin M. Schwamm, Clay S. Davis, Jr., Charles W. Van Beke
Division of Law, Tennessee Valley Authority
400 Commerce Ave., Knoxville TN 37902
(615) 632-2241

Weick, J., joined by Edwards, J.

[OPINION OMITTED BY PUBLISHER IN ORIGINAL SOURCE]