Senate confirms Biden nominees for TVA to restore utility board to full 9 members

Staff file photo / The Tennessee Valley Authority building is shown in downtown Chattanooga.
Staff file photo / The Tennessee Valley Authority building is shown in downtown Chattanooga.

Two years after being elected, President Joe Biden will finally put his imprint on the largest federal agency in the Tennessee Valley.

In a voice vote Wednesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed six new directors nominated by Biden for the board that governs the Tennessee Valley Authority. The vote came just a few days before Congress adjourns for the year and averts a threatened loss of a board quorum for TVA to make major business decisions within the next couple of weeks.

The new TVA directors to be sworn into office in January will restore TVA's board to its full nine-member size and bring representatives from each of the major states served by TVA.

(READ MORE: TVA's CEO remains the highest-paid federal employee)

Partisan differences, disputes over geographic representation and objections to previous comments from some of the TVA nominees held up their confirmation by more than 20 months from when they were first nominated by Biden soon after he became president. The confirmation process over the past two years was the longest for any Senate ratification of a TVA nominee since the federal utility adopted its current governing structure in 2004.

"It's taken far too long, but this is great news to get these nominees confirmed and, hopefully, the TVA board will now be more aligned with the Biden administration," Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I fully anticipate there will now be more receptivity to renewable energy and energy efficiency than we've seen from the current board."

The new board members, who are eligible to serve five-year terms on the board overseeing TVA, include the first representative from organized labor ever to serve as a TVA director -- former EPB lineman and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Vice President Robert Klein. Klein will be the second Chattanoogan to serve on the TVA board in addition to TVA Chairman Bill Kilbride, a former president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce after serving as president of Mohawk Home and chief sustainability officer for Mohawk Industries.

(READ MORE: Senate panel advances 5 of 6 TVA director nominees from Biden White House)

Other new members to the TVA board initially pushed by Biden last year include Michelle Moore, a sustainability team leader in the administration of former President Barack Obama who now heads a nonprofit organization that promotes solar energy, and Beth Geer, a chief of staff to Al Gore Jr. when he was vice president.

Despite objections from Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, the full Senate gave its unanimous consent to confirm Geer.

During a Senate confirmation hearing in April, Geer was blasted by Ernst for a tweet in 2015 when she posted "hideous" after Ernst's Republican response to the State of the Union address by Obama.

Ernst, a former company commander in Kuwait who is now a lieutenant colonel for the Iowa Army National Guard and the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate, delivered her address from the Senate Armed Services Committee room wearing camouflage-print heels and stood in front of four military flags. In her speech, she urged support for the Keystone XL pipeline, which she called the "Keystone jobs bill," even though environmentalists like Geer have questioned such investments.

To gain the support of Biden's initial nominees after months of delays, Republican senators in the Tennessee Valley urged the White House to add members to the TVA board from their respective states. Biden agreed earlier this year to add board members from Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama to serve on the part-time, nine-member board.

Other new board members who the president agreed to nominate include Adam "Wade" White, a county judge in Lyon County, Kentucky, who was backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; William Renick Sr., a former mayor of Pontotoc, Mississippi, who was backed by both of Mississippi's GOP senators; and former TVA Chairman Joe Ritch, a Huntsvillle, Alabama, attorney who returns to the TVA board he was first appointed to in 2013.

McConnell praised the Senate approval of White, who he said in a statement is "proven by his successful tenure" as a county leader.

In a joint statement, Mississippi Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans, praised Renick for bringing "a Mississippi perspective to TVA.

"Bill has a proven record of serving our state first in public office and then as a business and economic development leader," the senators said.

The TVA board currently has five members -- the bare minimum necessary for a quorum to conduct business. The terms of A.D. Frazier and Jeff Smith expired in May, but according to agency bylaws, the two were able to stay in office until the end of the current congressional session this month.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, TVA praised the new board members and said "we look forward to them being sworn in as TVA directors in the coming days and helping us further strengthen TVA's ongoing mission of service to the 10 million people in our seven-state region."

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

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