David Cook: Senators leave us in the dark

David Cook: Senators leave us in the dark

January 16th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Document: Open letter to Tennessee senators on TVA

Concern on action to block the reappointment of Dr. Marilyn Brown to TVA?s board of directors.

It's not because of her qualifications. No way, Jose.

Dr. Marilyn Brown is one of the most qualified people on the planet to sit on the TVA board. Her resume is 26 pages long. She's a rock star; if Lebron James was into energy efficiency, he'd be Marilyn Brown.

Nobel Prize co-recipient. More stuff published than she can remember. Years at Oak Ridge National Lab. A professor at Georgia Tech. Easily one of the smartest people in the South.

But two weeks ago, her resume shrank a bit. All because U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker refused to recommend her renomination to the TVA board, where she's been serving for the past two years.

"We encourage the president to send another nominee with credentials better suited to the TVA board," their joint statement read.

Friday, a pact of nine state and national environmental groups delivered a response, an open letter to the senators, requesting two things:

The senators explain their reasons for blocking her reappointment;

And, if the White House resubmits her name for nomination, that they approve it.

"We have not heard back from either Senate office," emailed Jennifer Rennicks, director of policy and communications with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Tuesday afternoon.

The question hangs in the air like smog: Why? Why would the senators blacklist and block the renomination of our Southern expert?

You'd think they would love her. She has a plan to save you and me billions in energy costs by 2020. Isn't saving money what Republicans are known for?

"I often was unable to convince some board members that energy efficiency was a good investment for TVA," Brown recently told The Tennessean.

What? It's not leprosy. Or socialism. Energy efficiency is about saving money and energy for the environmental and economic good of our region, especially at a time when weather (enjoying the rain?) is becoming more and more unpredictable.

"The utilities that pursue and fund initiatives in energy efficiency will be the most successful utilities in the next five or 10 years. The ones that don't won't be," said Jimmy Sandlin, head of the Scottsboro Electric Power Board, who also said he was pleased with TVA's work toward energy efficiency.

In recent months, Corker has been outspoken about needing to inject the board with business leaders and those with corporate board-level experience.

A fine idea.

But to flood (pun intended) the board with nonacademic business leaders while at the same time blackballing a global expert in energy efficiency is to negate a most valuable perspective. Like blinding yourself.

Blacklisting Brown also sends a threatening message to the now nearly all-male board, some of whom reportedly had no idea Brown would get left at the door. Alexander and board Chairman Bill Sansom are decades-old friends. My hunch is that Sansom and Brown were ideologically opposed on more than one level.

(Is this what happens to people who disagree?)

Blacklisting Brown also sends an offensive message to you and me -- customer and citizen -- that big decisions like these aren't important enough to warrant a meaningful explanation.

Like this is a middle school dance, where some people get invited and others secretly don't.

After calling Monday and then calling again Tuesday, I got an emailed response Tuesday afternoon from Corker's office. It's essentially the same quote he gave The Tennessean. (Alexander's office did not respond to my request for comment.)

"We approved four of the five people that were nominated, and while Ms. Brown certainly might be qualified to serve as a consultant to TVA, we felt the board would be better served with a different nomination," the email read.

Once again, this doesn't answer anything. Like Marilyn Brown, we're left in the dark.

Maybe you should try calling.