Biden nominates former TVA chair to return to federal utility board

Staff file photo / Joe Ritch is shown in 2013 as the TVA board of directors holds a public meeting at TVA's Chattanooga Office Complex.
Staff file photo / Joe Ritch is shown in 2013 as the TVA board of directors holds a public meeting at TVA's Chattanooga Office Complex.

Former Tennessee Valley Authority Chairman Joe H. Ritch could soon be returning to the TVA board a decade after he was first named to help oversee the federal utility.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday nominated the Huntsville, Alabama, attorney to serve as a TVA director again. Ritch was first appointed to the nine-member TVA board in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama and was elected in 2014 as the first TVA chairman from Alabama.

Ritch was renominated for another term on the TVA board by Obama in 2016. Despite support for the direction of TVA by both of Tennessee's Republican senators at the time, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, the GOP-controlled Senate did not confirm Ritch and two other Obama appointees before President Trump took office in 2017.

In their final act on the TVA board in late 2016, Ritch and other outgoing TVA directors voted along with other board members to add another $200,000 in compensation for TVA CEO Bill Johnson and added possibly millions of dollars more in retirement benefits for Johnson, who was already the nation's highest paid federal employee. Ritch and other TVA directors said TVA needed to be competitive in pay with other investor-owned utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric in California, which ultimately hired Johnson and paid him more money even while the California utility was operating under bankruptcy protection.

As president, Trump blasted the pay for TVA executives, calling the compensation packages for Johnson and current CEO Jeff Lyash "ridiculous."

Two of the TVA chairmen who succeeded Ritch, James "Skip" Thompson, of Alabama, and Richard Howorth, of Mississippi, were fired by Trump in 2020 for their support of outsourcing some IT jobs and for voting to raise executive pay at TVA. Trump had urged the TVA board to cut Lyash's $8.1 million compensation package "by a lot."

If he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Ritch's return to the TVA board would provide some continuity as a majority of the board changes by early next year.

Biden is still seeking confirmation for three TVA directors he proposed 16 months ago. In response to Republican appeals for more representatives from Kentucky and Mississippi, Biden last month nominated a county judge executive in Kentucky, Adam "Wade" White, and a former mayor in Mississippi, William Renick Sr., for the TVA board. Those nominees are backed by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Mississippi Republican Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, who urged Biden to put representatives from their states on the TVA board before the U.S. Senate confirms more nominees from Tennessee.

The governing board for TVA is currently comprised of individuals from Tennessee and Georgia after the five-year terms of former TVA board members in Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama expired. Only five of the nine seats on the TVA governing board are filled, all of them appointees by Trump. Three of the current board members are scheduled to leave TVA by the end of the year, leaving the authority with just two board members and no quorum unless the Senate acts to confirm at least some of Biden's nominees this year.

The TVA Act was revamped in 2005 to replace the former three-member, full-time management board with a nine-member, part-time policy-setting board. The board members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Previously, both Marilyn Brown and Bill Sansom served on the TVA board on two separate occasions, as Biden is proposing that Ritch do for the incoming TVA board.

Although there are no geographic representation requirements for the board members, historically, the board has had members from various states across the Tennessee Valley.

Ritch practices law with the firm of Dentons Sirote PC, with a focus on government contracts, corporate and tax law. He has served as a trustee emeritus of the University of Alabama System and as chairman of the Redstone Regional Alliance, which is a coalition of communities in north Alabama and south-central Tennessee that support the growth of military facilities in that area.

Ritch received the Redstone's Good Neighbor Award, as well as the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award. He has served on various corporate boards, mostly related to technology, aerospace and defense, as well as many nonprofit boards. including Alabama School for Cyber Technology and Engineering Foundation. He was inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame in 2021.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter at @dflessner1.