TVA the hidden-away federal agency

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.

  1. How do you justify the anti-competitiveness inherent in the TVA? Is not ours a market economy?
  2. Do you intend to develop policies that would tend to make TVA more business-like? And why.
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. Do you believe TVA’s right to “sue and be sued” is a proper role for a government agency?
  6. Do you believe that TVA has the constitutional right to set unappealable electricity rates?
  7. What impact do you believe you will have on the newly constituted TVA board?
  8. Do you believe that TVA should follow the openness rules laid out by the Office of Management and Budget?
  9. 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.

Ernest Norsworthy