The Tennessee Valley Authority and a few appointees to its board came under heavy criticism from senators on both sides of the aisle during a confirmation hearing in Washington DC on Wednesday.
U.S. Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate subcommittee hearing on TVA nominations, slammed TVA for its relatively limited wind and solar power generation, which accounted for less than a quarter of the US average last year. Markey said even in cloudy Massachusetts, 16% of its electricity now comes from solar and wind generation, compared to just 3% from those TVA sources.
“It’s very, very sad for the Tennessee Valley Authority given the technological advancement that TVA has always prided itself on,” Markey said during Wednesday’s hearing. “I just don’t like that TVA falls so far behind the rest of the country because I grew up thinking that TVA was really cutting edge. It’s pretty obvious that there’s no movement here and it looks like TVA is the latest in the whole campaign.”
TVA has used its 29 hydroelectric dams and seven nuclear reactors to get more than 60% of its electricity from carbon-free sources, exceeding the carbon reductions of most other utilities. But Markey said the climate crisis requires TVA to do more to promote energy efficiency and use more renewable energy sources.
Democrats hope the three new TVA board members appointed to join the current five-member board can push the federal public service to do more to limit its carbon footprint. President Joe Biden has called for the electricity industry to be decarbonized by 2035, but TVA expects it to be only 80% decarbonized by 2035.
“While TVA has already made progress toward a clean energy transition, other private utilities have far exceeded TVA’s commitments to clean energy and energy efficiency,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper, D. -Delaware, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. said in a statement after the hearing. “TVA can and must do more, and it all starts with leadership.”
The committee is expected to vote on the TVA nominations in May, and Carper said he hopes for early confirmation to fully reinstate the TVA board.
“In doing so, we will ensure the TVA board does not lose quorum and provide quality leadership to the board during a critical time,” Carper said.
A year ago, Biden named four new members to the TVA board, including Beth Geer, chief of staff to former vice president Al Gore; Michelle Moore, sustainability team leader in former President Barack Obama’s administration, who now heads a nonprofit that promotes solar power; and Robert “Bobby” Klein, a retired EPB electrician who was an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union leader. Biden also nominated Kim Lewis of Huntsville, Alabama, but she later decided to run for the Alabama State Senate instead.
Battle over fossil fuels
While Markey has chastised TVA for not doing enough to promote renewable energy, the two environmental activists named to TVA’s board of directors who have said they want to do more to promote renewable energy have also come under fire from GOP lawmakers. for previous tweets they criticized. the fossil fuel industry and its supporters.
Geer was lambasted by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, for a tweet in 2015 when she posted “hideous” after Ernst’s Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union address.
Ernst, a former company commander in Kuwait who is now an Army lieutenant colonel for the Iowa National Guard and the first female combatant to serve in the Senate, delivered her speech from the Armed Services Committee room of the Senate wearing camouflage print heels and stood in front of four military flags. In her speech, she urged support for the Keystone XL pipeline, which she called the “Keystone jobs bill,” even though environmentalists like Geer have questioned those investments.
“I don’t know if you’ve gotten into the habit of calling women you disagree with hideous,” Ernst told Geer, “but it’s not nice in Iowa and I is calling you.”
Geer apologized for the tweet, which she said did not reflect Ernst’s appearance.
But Ernst said she would oppose Geer’s nomination due to the lack of civility in Geer’s social media post.
“To say my personal views are hideous is an affront to half America,” Ernst said.
Moore also came under fire for her tweet in December 2018 when she compared petroleum to opiates. “It makes you sick and poor,” Moore said in response to a Wall Street Journal article about OPEC and Russian oil cuts to drive up prices. On another occasion, Moore said that fossil fuels like oil and gas “are not safe at any stage in their life cycle.”
“How would you react to that if you were on a board where 40% of the [TVA’s] energy comes from fossil fuels? asked US Senator Shelly Capota, R-West Virginia.
Moore said she appreciates the role fossil fuels have played in promoting economic growth and transportation. Looking ahead, however, she said she sees abundant new sources of energy and cleaner technologies without the problems of mining, shipping, air pollution and waste storage. most fossil fuels.
Call for geographical diversity
Capito also voiced the concerns of GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, about their states’ lack of board seats in the TVA seven-state area.
“Chief McConnell, Senator Wicker and others are frustrated, like me, that about a year has passed since the President appointed these board members. [from Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Virginia] but he still hasn’t put forward a candidate from Kentucky or Mississippi,” Capito said. “Additionally, representation from Alabama is now required as the pending candidate has withdrawn. Geographic representation is nothing new, and we know it’s important for good decision-making.”
The VAT Act was overhauled in 2005 to replace the previous management board of three full-time members with a policy-making board of nine part-time members. Board members are appointed by the president and confined by the US Senate.
Although there are no geographic representation requirements for council members, historically the council has had members from various Tennessee Valley states. Capito urged the White House “to finally fill those gaps” by filling the three vacant seats on TVA’s board of directors with members from Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama.
Despite GOP concerns about TVA’s nomination process, environmental groups are backing the new nominees who they hope will propel TVA into a more carbon-free and greener future with greater efforts to promote energy conservation and renewable fuels.
Bri Knisley, Tennessee director for the nonprofit environmental group Appalachian Voice, said Biden board appointees “have the potential to advance a just and clean energy transition that benefits workers and creates opportunities.” the local wealth in this region.
“Failure to confirm these nominees would be dismissive and incredibly detrimental to the 10 million people served by TVA who need a fully functioning TVA board,” Knisley said in a statement Wednesday.