TVA the hidden-away federal agency
February 16, 2010
“TVA doesn’t affect me”, you might say, far away from the Southeast maybe in Wyoming or Texas. Friend, you would be wrong in that belief.
There is nothing in the federal government like the TVA, no agency or department with the same awesome power to dictate its no-appeal rulings that affect millions of Americans. “In America?” you might say, yes, right here in America.
Coupled with its “eminent domain” power to take your property, TVA then determines how best to use that property. It might be for a commercial venture that no one voted on or a land swap deal similar to the Rep. Heath Shuler D-NC deal where his company stood to increase land values by millions.
For years, TVA “made money” on such land sales and sweetheart swaps. TVA still owns nearly 200,000 acres of land that should be disposed of in a legal manner. But not in accord with the Kelo decision of the Supreme Court which likely will be overturned; dozens of states have passed or are in the process of passing laws to prohibit transactions like Kelo.
The people at least have the ability to change abusive laws but in the case of the TVA with its Star Chamber secret and unappealable rulings, there is no chance for any state or local government to overturn their decisions. TVA’s ruling that a rate increase becomes effective in “X” number of days cannot be appealed. Neither Congress nor the Executive Branch of government can appeal any of TVA’s rulings.
How, you may ask, does this maverick federal agency continue its 76 year-old existence? Well, one reason is that the good people in other states do not believe it affects them. It was not until the Kingston ash-dam disaster did TVA appear on the radar screen. For all intents and purposes, TVA simply did not exist for most until now.
TVA has its own retirement system, determines its own pay scales which in many cases are far above regular federal employees’ rates. TVA has a bonus system that can and does yo-yo up and down with no logical rhyme or reason and is very careless with the monies under its control.
TVA likes to pretend it is a stock-owned utility when it sells no shares; inadvertently, one of nominees at the senate hearing last week referred to TVA “shareholders”. It dabbles in market financing and is very deep underwater in its financial abilities.
TVA is now in the midst of another “reorganization” and one of its features is to hire more people when in fact if were to act like a real business it would be cutting overhead staff significantly. Never known for its nimbleness in the marketplace, TVA always is slow to react to any kind of emergency and never has been “ahead of the curve” where market-driven utilities must stay.
Immediately after the Kingston catastrophe, I recommended that the TVA share no part in its cleanup, the “making right” the mess caused by the TVA. Instead, TVA went ahead and it became obvious that the job was far above any capabilities of the TVA so another federal agency, EPA was put in charge.
Well, this pair of ineptitudes proceeded to make decisions of far reaching consequences. They both decided it would be a good thing to dispose of the toxic ash wastes in another state, Alabama, and now the company handling the contract has gone bankrupt. The toxicity grows.
The obvious and first decision was what to do with the waste; the obvious and best decision should have been to place the ash on other TVA property which readily is available. (That ultimately may be the decision in light of the disastrous mistakes already made by the TVA and EPA.)
It will be up to the full senate committee to thoroughly flush out the four nominees to fill the remaining part-time slots on the TVA board. Here are a few questions I’d like to ask each one of them.
- How do you justify the anti-competitiveness inherent in the TVA? Is not ours a market economy?
- Do you intend to develop policies that would tend to make TVA more business-like? And why.
- In the past, TVA said it was preparing for its eventual privatization; are you familiar with the plans and are you for or against the privatization of the TVA?
- In the sub-committee hearing, several of you seemed unaware of the number of major court cases in process or that are pending. Do you believe that TVA should appeal every ruling against it when the right thing to do would be to proceed to following court orders?
- Do you believe TVA’s right to “sue and be sued” is a proper role for a government agency?
- Do you believe that TVA has the constitutional right to set unappealable electricity rates?
- What impact do you believe you will have on the newly constituted TVA board?
- Do you believe that TVA should follow the openness rules laid out by the Office of Management and Budget?
- In your mind, can there really be a hybrid agency like the TVA that effectively is neither private nor government? Should TVA be abolished or retained in a non-power capacity?
Please prepare your written answers to each of these questions.
That would be it for me; those answers would lead me to making the correct choice or choices if I were voting on these nominees.
TVA, a federal agency, affects every American and every decision TVA makes affects all of us in some way.
TVA – working off of a billion dollars
November 22, 2015
The Associated Press seemed to bust a gut in glowingly tell of the bonuses to some 10,000 federal TVA employees, averaging over $10,000 each. What is there to be proud of? It’s a government agency designed to compete with private utilities (I call that illegal); to drain private dollars from the TVA territory for manipulation, a billion dollars’ worth, and put it in the hands of non-elected presidential appointees headed by a so-called “CEO” whose compensation exceeds (over $6 million) any other federal employee.
The AP makes it sound so rosy, so non-competitive with stock-holding utilities. Friend, the AP couldn’t be further from the truth. The article uses the word “sharing” implying TVA is a shareholding entity. TVA has no shares; it is no more, no less than a federal agency that was set up incorrectly in 1933 and continues to this day as an aberration on the constitution.
AP apparently picked up the erroneous “2000 jobs cut” … “and not filled vacant positions to cut most of the more than 2,000 jobs eliminated over the past couple of years.” Early on, TVA admitted that the “2000 job cuts” were a fake and were only job positions that had not been filled. TVA has done nothing to correct this error in interpretation.
TVA employees are paid above the surrounding wages of the ones they serve. There is some resentment there; TVA employees do not have to merit the higher wages. …TVA is not a typical government agency and the federally owned utility must compete with higher-paying, investor-owned utilities to keep and retain top talent.”
“We are dealing with the fact that because of the high performance we are getting, many other utilities would like to hire our people away,” Ritch said. “We still pay below industry levels.”
I say, Mr. Ritch, there is no rush of TVA employees leaving the government’s arms of security. Let’s face it, TVA is known as a “plum” job. Offers of early retirement are slow in coming at TVA. Is it any wonder?
“A few years ago, everyone was talking about how TVA was going to have to raise its $30 billion debt ceiling, but we don’t here that talk anymore,” said Peter Mahurin, a TVA director. It is no secret, but TVA has figured out how to get around the $30 billion cap and to get all the money it wants. For the long-term… It’s called “kick the finance can into the next administration.”
“Our rates are very competitive and getting more competitive,” Johnson said Friday. What the hay, where does it say in the TVA charter that TVA is supposed to be “competitive,” is there a separate meaning to the word? The problem with TVA is that it has never become “neither fish nor fowl.” That goes back a long time when progressive FDR tried to mess things up (and he did!)
Soon to be published is my tome entitled “TVA Fraud.”
November 8. 2015
Oh glee! A billion bucks to play with! That must have been the TVA reaction after they sold $l billion of nonredeemable 50-year bonds recently. It looks to be a very bad bargain on the part of the bond holders. The purchase is based on a falsity. The law clearly states that the U.S. government is not responsible for TVA’s debt, yet that is apparently the assumption of Fitch, a rating company, by giving TVA their best rating. For rating companies it is a gamble; for bond buyers an even greater risk.
First, to think TVA will last 50 more years is ludicrous when the present administration already admits the usefulness of the TVA days are over. But keep in mind that this administration is ideologically driven by “climate change” (formally called “global warming”) in every way imaginable regardless of the impact it may have directly on jobs and economic growth.
Sadly, I must admit that with the billion dollar nonredeemable bond issue for 50-years, it will become almost impossible to jar TVA out of attempts to try to be like a private utility and predictably become neither “fish nor fowl” monster as originally stated by FDR. Incidentally, apparently the congress couldn’t care less about the TVA because no appropriations have been requested since 1959 and TVA continues to extend their debt for a long time in the future.
Regardless of the games TVA continues to play, the concept, the model TVA is operating under is like the golden goose sans the golden egg. I say TVA is a federal agency, not what FDR called it.
October 30, 2015
It appears that Google has provided enough “hush money” (a promised warehouse costing $600 million) that those involved locally and apparently TVA have signed agreements to keep silent about the “easement” deal between Google and TVA for 350 acres of federal land on the Widows Creek site in Stevenson, Alabama.
Google’s acquisition process has followed a similar path in building data centers worldwide. And if Google prefers that approach in building their data centers, so be it; no quibble there. But there is a major concern about TVA, a federal agency, agreeing not to divulge the details of the transaction, if TVA signed or orally agreed to a lock-down on information.
Congress has passed legislation, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to keep federal agencies like TVA aware that federal information cannot be withheld when requested. That appears to be the case between TVA and Google; stonewalling is stonewalling in any event if TVA refuses to divulge the details of the deal. Serious consequences, for example, can result if RICO statutes apply. This is not to suggest that any of the parties involved in the “easement” deal between TVA and Google are suspected of carrying out illegal activities, but if Google has sworn a federal agency to secrecy when knowledge of those facts relate to millions of TVA ratepayers, the details of the “deal” must be shared.
TVA has an obligation to keep ratepayers, TVA’s main source of funding, informed and if TVA takes a dictatorial stance about it, well, there’s the FOIA (cough, cough) to try. A Tennessee newspaper tried that approach on another “deal” TVA worked but they were told that TVA’s refusal to release stood and that FOIA would back them up. The only alternative by the inquiring party was to sue, a long and costly venture.
October 25, 2015
Why is it that TVA makes one “curiouser and curiouser” the longer TVA’s side of the Google deal is kept secret? Sure, TVA is a federal agency and they manage to do what they want to do anyway, but remember, whatever TVA does is a direct charge to ratepayers; they have no choice as captives of a monopoly. Ratepayers deserve to be kept informed at the very least. After all, it’s their money TVA is committing or spending despite what TVA says. It’s true that Google swore everybody to secrecy in making the deal with TVA; maybe TVA doesn’t know when they can speak for fear of retribution from Google and it seems so from the others involved. Shut up! Or I’ll take back my $600 million warehouse! Is that what Google is implying?
Google has committed to build a $600 million warehouse on 350 acres of the closed Widows Creek coal-fired plant and “repurposing” it. That’s a key word from Google, just what does “repurposing” mean? The number of technicians to run the warehouse is probably fewer than 100 employees. There is no question about the impact of Google’s expansion on the community, state of Alabama and the region.
What’s in it for TVA is unclear and it will stay that way until TVA decides to talk. How much did Google pay, if anything, for the TVA “easement” peculiarity, a sales transaction? It must have been an impressive amount; hundreds of federal employees working on the deal, all sworn to secrecy. Can you imagine that many people keeping silent? Especially, feds?
October 24, 2015
The president’s veto of a national defense bill partly because it goes around budgetary caps on defense spending should apply to TVA. TVA’s cap of $30 billion in borrowing is easily avoided by artfully ignoring a congressional mandate. This suggests the administration is picking and choosing mandates, especially those ideological programs. But this doesn’t let congress off the hook; just because TVA does not request appropriations, congress will have to pay “appropriations” in a big way after they have stopped “kicking the gnarled can down the road.” Ah yes, congress has forgotten its role of oversight.
With almost universal disdain, TVA has become the laughing stock of the nuclear industry, the whipping boy of how not to “run a railroad.” Warning, with the incompetence of government-run anything, how can the TVA or its predecessors maintain a safe nuclear environment forever when the hodge-podge of a nuclear reactor takes 40 years to complete? Mismanagement and its start-stop incompetence have shown the world how not to “build a better mouse trap” and if any other countries follow the U.S. model, they do so at their own peril. Speaking of TVA’s audacious “deal” with Google, TVA has gone completely bonkers.
Here’s what we know; TVA and its sound-alike private enterprise negotiations with Google in very secret emails, hundreds of them, (my, hundreds of federal employees worked so hard exchanging emails with Google while sworn to secrecy along with involved local representatives). It was all so hush, hush. But that’s not the catch; TVA actually disposed of federal property through a permanent “easement”, 350 acres of the Widows Creek site. TVA admitted this method of land disposal avoided those pesky rules governing federal land disposal. TVA has yet to disclose after over 4 months just exactly how much more TVA ratepayers have to ante up. Whatever the “deal” TVA made with Google, it has not been transparent at all. And the decision to go ahead with the agreement rested in the hands of part-time and appointed federal employees. State and local elected representatives were shut out of the decision-making process. In fact, the sovereignty of 7 states was completely ignored.
Clearly, TVA was way out of bounds; the legality of the “deal” has to be highly questioned as to TVA’s authority to make such a transaction. Where was the TVA Inspector General, the government’s watchdog, who should have advised of TVA’s shaky ground?
Still, the best solution in handling “deals” like that with Google is to let free enterprise do the competitive give and take; there should be no bargaining with the federal government. If for some reason there are errors made on TVA’s part by any of the hundreds of federal employees, you can bet that not a single federal employee will be fired, punished in any way, demoted or held liable; that’s the way the federal government works, not private enterprise.
All a sleuth has to do is to follow the money, the sizable sum of $10 billion a year. Oh yes, the flippancy of the way TVA handles the deadliest element on earth, nuclear, without finding a way to safely store the residue is criminal. Until a solution is found, all nuclear activity should cease immediately.
October 21, 2015
After the party was over, so to speak, over the major location of one of Google’s data warehouses in Stevenson, Alabama, there was reason to celebrate about a $600 million investment. The little town of 2000 people with shock and awe is just beginning to realize their community will be drastically changed but will be forever grateful to Google. But that is not the issue here.
While the noise of the Google selection can be heard all over the world, one wonders how TVA got to this place. There has not been a murmur from TVA about the deal they concocted with Google. What were the concessions? How much did Google pay for their so-called easement? Should TVA be penalized for breaking a statutory rule of avoiding the bidding process of federal property?
The absence of answers to those questions and more from TVA indicate some kind of cover up. When added to the fact that after scouring the Internet and finding only two sites that were related directly to TVA’s deal with Google, it was to my dismay both sites had been taken down and were not available.
As recently as today (Oct. 21), TVA’s site revealed nothing about the deal between TVA and Google. Is this just another secret deal of incentives by TVA? Surely, TVA ratepayers want to know since they have to pay for all of TVA’s excursions.
TVA – sick from too much green paint?
October 16, 2015
Want to hear a fairy tale? Once upon a time in Utopialand where everything is greener than green frogs, they were trying to raise a little money. They figured they’d sell a product but it would only seem to be one.
“This’ll do it!” cried a Utopian. We can just pretend we’re selling a product; we’ll sell it in blocks! It makes no matter that there really is no “product” but we can make it look that way. How about $4 per block? Don’t want to be too pricey. When they buy a block of imaginary stuff, (I know, I know, they think it’s real; it’s just a pig in a poke! Ha, ha! The jokes on you!)
Because we have other things going on here, we’ll have to account for every block of imagination we sell at $4 per imaginary “block.” We call it a “block” because it sounds so real; it can be paid sooo easily once a month as part of another bill. But wait! Money is fungible; one dollar cannot be told from another! I’m sorry, we’ll be needing some of those dollars for other than a “green” purpose, it’s just part of the mix; some of the money might be a different shade of green.
Do you think we can get away with calling the “blocks” a “product” when they are only imaginary? Remember what P.T. Barnum said? Oh, then it’s a go?
The moral of the tale is “what you see is a mirage but you don’t believe it is.”