Business Briefcase: Obama budget won't alter TVA

Business Briefcase: Obama budget won't alter TVA

June 2nd, 2013 in Business Diary

Obama budget won't alter TVA

A seven-sentence proposal in President Barack Obama's budget for fiscal 2014 appears dead on arrival, and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker doesn't think it ever had much life even within administration budget planners. Obama's budget proposal includes a recommendation to consider giving up federal ownership of TVA to pare the federal debt. But Corker insisted last week that the idea "is never going to happen."

"My guess is that OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] probably spent about five seconds on these few sentences on TVA in the budget," he said.

Corker said making TVA board appointments "has become a real pain" for the president.

"TVA has no real owner," he said. "The federal government doesn't care about it and it's a total pain [to make board appointments] for administrations of both parties. They don't ever do it on a timely basis. Candidly, a lot of its ends up being a lot about politics."

Corker said TVA is vital for Tennessee and he said he made telphone calls last year to help persuade Bill Johnson, a former Progress Energy CEO, to take the TVA top post.

"I knew he was experienced and people I respect on the board really want him, so I put the hard press on him," he said.

Corridor Summit will return to city

The Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit, which met last week where it began in Oak Ridge 28 years ago, will return to Chattanooga next spring. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, the host of the 2-day meeting last week of government and business leaders from across the region, announced the summit next year will be held "in my hometown." Fleischmann succeeded Corridor founder and former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who launched the Tennessee Valley Corridor to help businesses in the region capitalize on the rich presence of government facilities in the region, ranging from the Oak Ridge National Labortory to the Marshall Space Institute.

No date or speakers have been announced for the event next spring, but the summit is expected to be conducted over two days in May 2014 in Chattanooga.

LDA leads plan for green upgrades

LDA Engineering has been selected to develop a master plan by next year on ways the city can develop more green infrastructure to hold back or absorb more rainfall before it enters the combined sewer system in Chattanooga.

The master plan for green alternatives was part of the city's agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached last year to address sewer violations by the city of federal pollution standards. The green infrastructure master plan will complement traditional "gray" infrastructure, which includes man-made sewer and storm water structures, with sustainable green alternatives. Overall, the city expects to spend about $250 million on addressing both sanitary and storm water runoff problems identified in the EPA settlement.

"Green infrastructure is an important component of the overall plan to create cost-effective, sustainable solutions to issues created by storm water runoff and sewer overflows," said Jason Brooks, president and CEO of LDA Engineering.

State collects on fraud

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development collected $15.3 million of fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits last year as a result of the Treasury Offset Program (TOP).

The program allows the state to garnish tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service and other federal payments from those who the state determines have collected unemployment benefits fraudulently. Tennessee's acting labor commissioner, Burns Phillips, said overpayments typically occur when claimants continue to claim benefits after returning to work and fail to report, or underreport, their earnings.

About half of the overpayments last year were from underreported or unreported wages. Another main reason for overpayments is when employers or their third party administrators fail to provide timely and complete information on the reason for an individual's separation from employment, resulting in the approval of a claim that would otherwise be denied.

"Developing strategies to prevent fraud is of the greatest importance," Phillips said. "In the coming months we will share these new measures with the public as they are hammered out."

Alexander says: Give TVA a look

Renewable portfolio standards set by many states - and proposed by some at the federal level - often overlook other clean energy sources, according to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Some states have mandates on the use of renewable energy, often defined as wind and solar power, and Alexander said there's been pressure on Congress to pass such "narrowly defined" energy mandates. Often excluded in these mandates are nuclear and hydropower, Alexander said, calling them the nation's cheapest and most-available sources of "air-pollution-free electricity."

"In the Tennessee Valley, more than 95 percent of our pollution-free electricity comes from TVA's dams and six [nuclear] reactors," he said.