Sen. Lamar Alexander: No chance TVA will be sold; House should pass lock bill (with videos)

Sen. Lamar Alexander: No chance TVA will be sold; House should pass lock bill (with videos)

May 29th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on Tuesday called on Tennessee's congressional delegation to get behind legislation that he termed "a huge step" toward building a new Chickamauga Lock.

Alexander, R-Tenn., in remarks prior to a Better Business Bureau of Greater Chattanooga meeting, also said there's no chance TVA will be sold as proposed by the Obama administration.

"Overall, I'd be afraid a sale might mean higher electric bills and industrial rates," he said.

Concerning the lock, Alexander noted the U.S. Senate this month passed his legislation that takes out the requirement that Inland Waterways Trust Fund money finance an Ohio River project that he said uses up almost all the money for lock replacement countrywide. Also, he said, the measure restates a capital development plan that outlines priorities for the fund.

Alexander said the $600 million cost of building a new and bigger Chickamauga Lock still would x require a fee increase that commercial barge companies already support in order to speed up work.

"There's a big difference between individual tax rates and user fees," he said about an increase in fuel costs. "If big barge companies want to pay more, that's a no-brainer to me."

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., speaks during the Better Business Bureau annual meeting and Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics luncheon at The Chattanoogan.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., speaks during the...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Fishermen and boaters would get the advantage of getting through the lock more rapidly without paying any more money, Alexander said.

"I think that's an offer we ought to take up," he said. "I hope our delegation from Tennessee and others around the country would accept that."

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., is among those reluctant to support higher taxes to pay for Army Corps of Engineers projects. Fleischmann said earlier this month he advocates an overall fix to the nation's infrastructure, including waterways.

"The good news is that both sides of the aisle are looking at the problem," he said. "Everything's on the table."

The present 73-year-old lock could be shut down because of problems caused by "concrete growth" in the structure's rock aggregate. Closing the lock would cut off a key transportation and economic artery for East Tennessee and put another 100,000 trucks on the highways, Alexander has said.

Meanwhile, Alexander said selling TVA isn't a good idea. The Office of Management and Budget proposed last month a strategic study of whether the federal government should sell TVA to pay off the utility's nearly $25 billion debt and "help put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path."

U.S. Senator (R-Tenn) Lamar Alexander mingles after speaking during the 2013 Better Business Bureau, Inc. Annual Meeting and Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics luncheon at the Chattanoogan Hotel on May 28, 2013.

U.S. Senator (R-Tenn) Lamar Alexander mingles after speaking...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

The senator said TVA assets could be used in more efficient ways, but with recent top executive additions "TVA is poised for five-10 years of strong leadership and stable rates."

Bill Johnson, a former CEO for Progress Energy in North Carolina, became CEO of TVA in January.

Additionally, Alexander worried about the implementation of Obamacare.

"Businesses all over our state are worried about the cost," he said.

Alexander has accused Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of "making an end run around Congress" by trying to find funding from a private organization to assist with Obamacare implementation.

At the BBB meeting, six Torch Award winners were named for marketplace ethics.

Ethan Collier, CEO of Collier Construction, which won in the under 11-employee category, said the award doesn't mean it hasn't received any complaints.

"No one has complained to the BBB," he said, adding the award shows "how you deal with complaints. It's how you respond and care for your customers."

2013 Torch Award winners