published Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

President renominates Brown for TVA post

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    President Barack Obama has resubmitted Marilyn Brown's name as a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority board. Brown had served a term but Tennessee Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker opposed her being reappointed.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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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.

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nucanuck said...

Dr Brown does not appeal to anti-intellectual voters and guess who votes primarily for the GOP Senators like Corker and Alexander. Yeap, the proudly anti-intellectuals who populate the great state of Tennessee.

When there are votes to be had, who really cares about the common good or doing the right thing?

April 2, 2013 at 12:40 a.m.
Leaf said...

But, but, Dr. Brown isn't a good old boy? Darn that Obama, always discriminating against rich old white guys!

April 2, 2013 at 10:23 a.m.
Jt6gR3hM said...

The intellectual Democrats vote for Mark Clayton.

April 2, 2013 at 4:11 p.m.
fairmon said...

The article includes a comment about the failure to test parts, a safety violation, and the cost of compliance plus various other failures and cost over runs. What would the $12,000 bonus for each already well paid employee have been if they had performed well? The board needs someone that is willing to address the spending and poor management of and within the TVA.

April 3, 2013 at 4:11 a.m.
shadowcaster said...

While the author of this article is correct that it is likely Dr. Brown's nomination is being help up on political grounds the remainder of the article is almost entirely off base.

First off, it is simply inflammatory to write that the senators want a "white man". There is no proof to back up this claim and it does not belong in a profession article. Secondly, the argument that they want a buisnessman doesn't seem to cast them in a negative light. TVA is a multibillion dollar buisness that affects all of our lives and should be run by people who have experience in buisness. While Dr. Brown's credentials are impressive she has no buisness experience. If a utility executive were put on the board of a climate change panel people would be outraged. Why are they not similarily outraged that a member of a climate change panel is being nominated to run a utility. Dr Brown is no more suited to run TVA than Bill Sansom is to run the IPCC.

Furthermore, attacks on TVA's generating fleet are lacking in historical context. It is true that TVA's largest source of electricity is coal, however the last coal plant came online 40 years ago. At that point in time no one here had ever even heard the term "global warming" and it is only in hindsight that the construction of these plants seems like a poor decision. Since that time TVA has only built non-carbon emitting nuclear plants and lower carbon emitting natural gas plants. This trend continues at TVA along with their increasing purchases of wind power. TVA has a schedule to retire their old coal plants, however they cannot simply be "turned off" all at once as this would result in a lack of power as well as billions of dollars we would have to pay in order to build new generating plants. Given the lack of any suitable wind power resources in the Tennessee Valley that leaves TVA with four generating options. Wind purchases, energy efficiency, nuclear and natural gas. TVA is currently aggressively pursuing all of these options to replace their coal plants. It is easy for the author of this article and others to chide TVA for their failings, but I have yet to see anyone propose a better solution.

April 5, 2013 at 12:06 p.m.
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