Senate confirms Trump nominees to TVA board

President Donald Trump speaks on national security Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, in Washington. Trump says his new national security strategy puts "America First." (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

NASHVILLE - The U.S. Senate has confirmed new members to four of five board positions on the Tennessee Valley Authority's nine-member board of directors.

Senators took the action Thursday on President Donald Trump's nominees to the nation's largest federally owned power utility.

Among those approved was Jeff Smith, deputy lab director for operations at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who was named to one of the five-year terms.

Smith was the lone new appointee from Tennessee to the board that oversees TVA operations in all or parts of seven Southeastern states.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he's glad the Senate acted "so the new board members can get to work at the nation's largest public utility.

"Each of these nominees understands that TVA must continue to provide cheap, clean, reliable electricity for homes and businesses throughout the seven-state Tennessee Valley region," Alexander added.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in his own statement that with TVA serving more than 9 million customers "it is critical for the Tennessee Valley that it remains a low-cost, reliable producer of electricity, not only for ratepayers but also for our state's business recruitment efforts."

The Chattanooga Republican praised the "diverse backgrounds of these nominees," saying that gives them "the necessary qualifications to support TVA's important mission, and I am pleased the Senate has acted swiftly to confirm them."

All four new board members are white males and most have business backgrounds.

Among them is retired coal executive Kenny Allen of Hopkins County, Ky., who formerly worked for the Armstrong Coal Co. in Kentucky.

Allen has been critical of EPA rules to limit carbon emissions from power plants, arguing in 2014 that Obama administration proposals would have "a devastating impact on America's economy" and "slam the door shut on an already reeling coal industry."

Also joining the board is A.D. Frazier of Atlanta, president emeritus of Georgia Oak Partners and a former president of Caremark RX who served as chief operating officer of the 1996 Atlanta Committee on the Olympic Games in Georgia.

The fourth new board member is James R. Thompson III of Decatur, Ala., president and chief executive of corporate billing at the National Commerce Corp.

Last January, some of the TVA appointments opened up after the Republican-controlled Senate in 2016 failed to confirm President Barack Obama's reappointment of three Democratic board members.

In a November confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the then-nominees all voiced support for TVA's recent investments in nuclear power.

"I think nuclear is an important part of the generation mix that TVA needs to continue to supply to the region," said Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Smith.

TVA has built the last two commercial nuclear reactors in the United States at its Watts Bar plant near Spring City, Tenn., and is studying the feasibility of building small modular reactors on the Clinch River in Oak Ridge.

None of the TVA nominees suggested that TVA should reverse course on its plans to reduce coal-fired generation, which once supplied two thirds of TVA power and is on pace to generate only 20 percent of TVA's electricity by 2020.

Allen, the retired executive who has defended the coal industry throughout his career at Armstrong Coal Co., said during his confirmation hearing that coal and other fossil fuels are needed to help generate electricity, which he said "is the very foundation of our standard of living."

But Allen said while he's proud of his work in the coal industry, "I also recognize the changes in our environment and I recognize the changes in our culture across the country. TVA has done a great job in the diversity of its power supply."

The four new board members join Chairman Richard Howorth of Mississippi and Virginia Lodge, Ronald Walter and Eric Satz of Tennessee on the TVA board.

The full TVA board meets quarterly and will next meet as an entire board in February. But board committees meet more often to oversee TVA and chart its direction.

TVA directors are each paid $51,005 a year, plus extra pay for chairing a committee or the overall board.