Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee refused to bring President Obama's nomination of Dr. Marilyn Brown for a second term on the TVA board before the Senate for confirmation in early January. That understandably left independent TVA analysts and critics aghast at their blind and blatant partisanship.
The senators didn't reject Dr. Brown, an international expert on energy efficiency and a Nobel Prize winner in 2007 for her work on climate change, because she isn't supremely qualified. Her outstanding record as a Distinguished Visiting Scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and her highly ranked tenure as a professor at Georgia Tech's School of Public policy, along with her international standing, make her credentials unassailable.
Rather, Corker and Alexander rejected her nomination simply because they wanted another white male businessman on the board like the other four male nominees to the TVA they confirmed that day — a banker, a lawyer, an accountant and a businessman. More to the point, they apparently wanted someone without much knowledge of TVA's core energy generation business, because they wanted new board members who would kowtow to their old political buddy, board Chairman Bill Sansom. And they clearly didn't want a board member who would question TVA's refusal to look seriously at renewable and alternative energy as an option to its dirty coal and costly nuclear addiction.
Our own senators apparently have never asked what's wrong with the TVA status quo. Which is strange. TVA, after all, has been criticized for decades by nonpolitical and environmentally concerned people for clinging to its traditional reliance on old dirty coal plants, dangerously dammed above-ground coal-sludge ponds and its flawed optimism about its nuclear plants. The latter is especially mystifying: TVA's beleaguered nuclear program is the source of most of its debt, still around $28 billion, and it's been constantly plagued with multibillion-dollar cost overruns, doubled-and-doubled-again construction delays and an unending list of safety violations.
The problems seem endless. The projected finish of the second unit at Watts Bar, for example, has been set back twice, while the projected cost of finishing it has doubled twice. The current schedule calls for it to be finished by 2016 at a cost of over $6 billion. But that's questionable since TVA was cited last week for not testing thousands of parts installed at Watts Bar since 1995, and at its other two nuclear plants, Sequoyah and Brown's Ferry.
In a separate citation a week earlier, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission slapped TVA with six violations of "substantial safety significance" for failing to adequately protect Watts Bar and Sequoyah nuclear plants, both on the Tennessee River, from potential flooding if upstream earthen dams fail.
Amid these decades-old problems — seniors here should recall that TVA slashed its nuclear plans in the late 1970s in favor of a stricter conservation program which was taken down in 1988 by Marvin Runyon — it's mind-boggling that Corker and Alexander remain so against an advocate for renewable and alternative energy on the TVA board. Fortunately, President Obama has not surrendered to them. He recently renominated Brown, and now must find a senator -- hopefully in a state TVA has served — willing to sponsor her nomination.
That shouldn't be hard. Either of Virginia's two Democratic senators, Mark Warner or Tim Kaine, both of whom have worked for other bipartisan deals, should be willing to advance Obama's call for sponsoring Brown's nomination. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, whose state, like Virginia, has benefited from TVA's power grid, might also be willing to sponsor the nomination.
Obama's decision to reintroduce Brown's nomination is particularly welcome because it challenges the crony-oriented, heads-in-the-sand approach that Corker and Alexander have taken on TVA's energy future. Other advanced countries rightly hold renewable and alternative energy as critical to bringing carbon dioxide emissions and global warming under control. TVA should be a leader in renewable energy. Corker and Alexander embarrass Tennessee and disregard our children's future with respect to energy use. TVA ratepayers deserve better.