Environmental groups urge Congress to confirm TVA board nominations

Staff file photo / The Tennessee Valley Authority building in downtown Chattanooga is shown in 2016.

Almost 18 months after being nominated, none of President Joe Biden's six nominees to the Tennessee Valley Authority board have been confirmed, including the chief of staff to former Vice-President Al Gore.

Now, TVA could face a loss of a quorum on the board as the nation's largest public utility is set to make critical decisions on carbon reduction steps to combat climate change.

Biden's nominees include Beth Geer, who has worked with Gore for more than 30 years, Robert Klein, Michelle Moore, Adam Wade White, William Rennick and Joe Ritch.

Geer has run into political roadblocks in the confirmation process after Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst criticized a one-word tweet -- "hideous" -- Geer made in response to Ernst's GOP rebuttal to then-President Barack Obama's 2015 State of the Union speech.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which conducted a confirmation hearing on Geer and three other nominees in April, has scheduled a business meeting next Tuesday to vote to recommend Geer's nomination to the full U.S. Senate. The five other nominees were previously endorsed by the Senate panel but are still awaiting a Senate confirmation vote.

The TVA board consists of nine members serving 5-year terms, and presently has just five members. The terms of A.D. Frazier and Jeff Smith were set to expire in May, but according to agency bylaws, may remain until the end of the current congressional session -- typically December -- or until their successors are confirmed.

Environmental groups are asking what's taking the body so long to confirm the nominees.

"TVA is headed towards lacking basic governance unless we get all these nominees confirmed," said Sudeep Ghantasala, coordinator for the Sunrise Movement in Tennessee.

On Nov. 17, Clean Up TVA, a coalition composed of the Sierra Club and several other organizations, sent a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urging him to confirm all six nominees.

"This is all despite a deal made between Republicans and the administration to specifically nominate three more board members from Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi in exchange for bipartisan support for a slate of all six TVA nominees. It is imperative both parties honor their end of the deal and immediately confirm all TVA board nominees as one package, as was originally agreed to," the letter stated.

The coalition previously expressed its concerns about TVA's reluctance to use incentives from the federal Inflation Reduction Act to invest in more renewable resources. TVA is also seeking to replace a coal plant with natural gas.

"The climate crisis and the fossil fuel infrastructure that is causing it – from coal plants to natural gas infrastructure – have already and will continue to cause so much devastation and heartbreak in the South," said Ghantasala.

Biden's nominees include people with backgrounds in clean energy, electricity and labor. All of TVA's current board members were appointed by former President Donald Trump, who flipped the board from Obama-era members.

"President Biden was quick to nominate well-qualified individuals to the TVA board after taking office, but those nominees have been blocked from serving the region for over eighteen months," said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Executive Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.