Bredesen slams Trump plan to sell TVA power transmission lines

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2013, file photo, former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks on a panel about reducing the federal debt at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. Democrat James Mackler says he's dropping out of the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee to replace Sen. Bob Corker, a move that appears to clear the path to the Democratic nomination for Bredesen. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)

NASHVILLE - U.S. Senate Democratic hopeful Phil Bredesen on Tuesday slammed President Trump's budget proposal calling for the sale of TVA's transmission network, warning it will prove "bad for Tennessee" and the federal utility's customers.

"That network is a valuable asset that has been paid for by TVA's customers over almost a century," the former governor said in a statement. "It is efficient and reliable, and this sale makes no sense if you're thinking about what Tennesseans need, rather than how to increase the profits of some corporation."

On Monday, President Trump unveiled a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. The administration says the Tennessee Valley Authority and similar federal agencies should be given authority to divest their transmission assets "where the agencies can demonstrate an increase in value from the sale would optimize the taxpayer value for federal assets."

Trump said selling the government-owned transmission lines would help raise funds to pay for other infrastructure projects and could spur more spending by the private sector on the electricity grid. TVA, which provides power to Tennessee and parts of six other states, has some 16,000 transmission lines.

Bredesen warned that any corporation "that pays billions of dollars for an asset like the TVA network is going to get that money back, plus a profit, somehow. That 'somehow' is TVA's customers. I'm not always against privatization; sometimes it can make sense. In this case it's a very bad move."

As governor, Bredesen said, his administration worked closely with TVA on industrial recruiting and job creation.

"They were a valuable partner, a huge asset to our state, and starting to break them up and privatize them is a big step backwards, especially in rural areas. I'm meeting with a group of rural mayors in the next few days, and one of the agenda items is how we can leverage even more benefits to rural areas of having TVA in our state."

Bredesen said his criticism "is not about blindly opposing the President. When he proposes ideas that will help Tennessee, I'll be the first to support them. But when they work against Tennessee, we should all oppose them. I encourage our Congressional delegation to resist any effort to break up and privatize TVA."

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called Trump's TVA proposal "looney."

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who was in Washington Monday when Trump unveiled his transportation plan, noted to reporters that Democratic President Obama "proposed the same thing" regarding selling TVA and the proposal "went nowhere."

"I'll be surprised if that gets much traction," Haslam said. "I know that's one of the ways they're trying to raise some dollars so they can put more money in infrastructure. Again, I'll be really surprised if that gets through Congress."

Asked if he could be supportive, the governor said "I'd want to see the impact on Tennessee. For us, we have good energy costs, it's one of our competitive advantages. TVA is based here and there's an employment advantage for us. I'd have to see the numbers to see what the impact on us would be with the proposal."

Still, when it came to Trump's overall plan, Haslam was complimentary.

"I'm glad there's finally a plan for addressing infrastructure," he told reporters. "No. 2, I think all governors would rather it be through more funding through their traditional highway formula. That being said, I don't know if there's the political will to do that in Washington."

While Trump's plan encourages public/private partnerships such as toll roads, which Tennessee doesn't have, the governor said another provision stands to benefit the state.

It provides a 20 percent federal match for states that have increased taxes for infrastructure.

"We're very well positioned because we passed our Improve Act last year," Haslam said of the plan, which boosted gas and diesel taxes for roads while reducing the sales tax on grocery food by a full percentage point, as well as reducing taxes for corporate manufacturers.

"Without it, we wouldn't have new dollars and we literally would get nothing out of the money expended. You have to have new dollars and we qualify and the money we put into the [rural] broadband would qualify as well."

Haslam said he's spoken to several administration officials "who've assured me that we won't be penalized for passing ours last year, that that will count as new money."

Another provision the governor likes: "There's also some separate money for rural projects. It'll be block grants to governors to decide, so we're excited about that as well."

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.