TVA board shrinks in size as U.S. Senate adjourns without confirming nominee

The board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority meets at the Chattanooga Office Complex in 2018.
The board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority meets at the Chattanooga Office Complex in 2018.

The governing board of the America's biggest power utility lost one of its directors this week when his term expired and the 115th Congress failed to confirm one of his presidential appointed successors.

As a result, the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is supposed to have nine directors, starts 2019 with only seven directors.

John Ryder, a Memphis attorney who previously served as general counsel for the Republican National Committee and as chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, was nominated to fill one of the TVA board vacancies last February by President Trump and was interviewed in March by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee during his confirmation hearing. But the full U.S. Senate of the 115th Congress that ended Thursday never confirmed Ryder to the post, requiring the White House to either resubmit his nomination or recommend someone else to the TVA board.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a member of the Senate panel that oversees TVA and a supporter of Ryder's nomination, criticized Democrats last year for holding up nominations like those to the TVA board.

"The problem is, even though Democrats can't ultimately defeat these nominations, they're delaying their approval by requiring the Senate to take a maximum amount of time to consider even less significant nominations and those that are not controversial," Alexander said last year.

Sens. Alexander and outgoing Sen. Bob Corker, both Tennessee Republicans, each voiced support for Ryder's appointment and said they had hoped his nomination would be confirmed before Congress adjourned. But the budget stalemate at the end of the 115th Congress held up other actions, including judicial and federal agency nominations.

During his confirmation hearing last year, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, questioned Ryder's lack of experience in electric power generation and asked Ryder to assure him he had "no preconceptions and (is) not as an agent for fossil fuel influence within TVA."

Ryder responded that he understands that his role as a TVA board member would be helping set strategic direction for the utility and allowing its officers to run the organization.

"I fully appreciate that the role of a member of the board of TVA is outside of politics," Ryder said.

At the same time, Ryder said, "my political experience has given me greater appreciation for the wants, needs and aspirations of those served by TVA."

Ryder was named to fill the vacancy created a year ago when the term of TVA Director Mike McWherter, a Democrat whose father was the late Gov. Ned McWherter, expired at the end of 2017.

Another vacancy opened up this week with the end of the term of Eric Satz, a Nashville venture capitalist and managing member of the Tennessee Community Ventures Fund who chaired TVA's external relations committee.

Satz was appointed to the TVA board by former President Barack Obama in 2015 to fill one of the vacancies and his term expired in May. Under TVA rules, directors are able to stay beyond their term until their successor is named or until that session of Congress ends.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.

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