Senate panel narrowly votes in favor of Al Gore’s former chief of staff for TVA board

TVA nominees await Senate vote to maintain a quorum of governing board

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

Despite opposition from most Republican members, a Senate panel voted Tuesday to endorse President Joe Biden's nomination of the former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore Jr. for one of the open seats on the governing board for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

By an 11-9 vote, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed Biden's appointment to the TVA board of Beth Prichard Geer, a Nashville environmental activist and former aide to Gore.

Geer was blasted by GOP lawmakers for a single-word tweet in 2015 that criticized the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst as "hideous." Ernst, a member of the Senate panel, is a lieutenant colonel for the Iowa Army National Guard who 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 such as Geer have questioned such investments.

"I'm not sure if you have made it a habit of calling women that you disagree with hideous," Ernst told Geer during a Senate confirmation hearing in April. "But this is not Iowa nice, and I'm calling you out."

Geer apologized for the tweet during her confirmation hearing, insisting the tweet was not a reflection on Ernst's appearance.

(READ MORE: TVA touts 'outstanding' year in fiscal 2022, but fuel costs still push up winter heating bills)

  photo  File photo / Beth Prichard Geer

But Ernst reiterated her opposition to Geer's appointment Tuesday, saying the tweet undermined Geer's claims of being able to build relationships and work together to advance TVA.

"While her comment (in the 2015 tweet) was only one single word, it said much more about her character," Ernst said during a business meeting of the Senate committee in Washington on Tuesday. "I do not believe that Ms. Geer is fit to serve in a Senate-confirmed position in which the nominee herself pointed to the value of unity and civility."

Ernst also criticized Geer for what she said were anti-fossil fuel comments "at a time when the Biden administration's anti-energy policies have increased costs for all Americans." TVA is moving toward a carbon-free energy portfolio by 2050, but Ernst said TVA and other utilities need to use all energy sources, including fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, to produce electricity.

Ernst was supported in her opposition to Geer by eight other Republicans on the committee, but she was endorsed by all 10 of the Democrats on the panel along with U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi.

(READ MORE: TVA joins other utilities to pursue Southeast Hydrogen Hub)

During Tuesday's hearing, both U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, a committee member, voiced support for Geer.

"As a native Tennessean, Ms. Geer has seen firsthand how economic development driven by TVA has lifted rural communities in her home state," Carper said. "Her years of public service, along with her experience working closely with developers of renewable energy, will be great assets to TVA's board of directors."

Geer's nomination will now head to the Senate floor along with five other Biden nominees to the TVA board who were previously endorsed by the Senate committee in unanimous voice votes. The full Senate must confirm the board appointments in the next month to avoid the TVA board being reduced to only three members and unable to have the quorum of the nine-member panel required to conduct business or adopt TVA policies.

All five current TVA board members were appointed by President Donald Trump, but the terms of two of the board members -- A.D. Frazier, of Kentucky, and Jeff Smith, of Tennessee -- will end Dec. 31.

Biden nominated four directors for the TVA board in April 2021, but those nominations along with three others since from the White House have yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as required under the TVA act for the governing board of the federal utility.

TVA is America's largest public utility, serving more than 10 million in its seven-state region. The federally owned corporation no longer receives any direct federal appropriations, but it is governed by a nine-member board appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Other nominees awaiting a full Senate confirmation vote include Robert "Bobby" Klein, a retired EPB lineman electrician who was a leader in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union; Michelle Moore, a sustainability team leader in the Obama administration who now heads a nonprofit organization that promotes solar energy; former TVA chairman and Huntsville attorney Joe Ritch; Adam "Wade" White, a county judge in Lyon County, Kentucky; and William Renick Sr., a former mayor of Pontotoc, Mississippi.

Last year, Biden also nominated Kim Lewis, of Huntsville, Alabama, but she later decided to run for the Alabama state Senate instead.

No vote is scheduled by the full Senate on the TVA board appointments, but last week a coalition of environmental groups urged the Senate to confirm the Biden nominees as soon as possible to ensure TVA can continue to conduct business in 2023. Brady Watson, the civic engagement coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Geer is "one of the strongest nominees on climate and clean energy" and is needed to help push TVA to more renewable power generation.

"Without her, the TVA board may not have the votes to meaningfully address issues facing TVA ratepayers, such as high energy burdens, volatile prices and even the build out of new fossil fuel infrastructure that threaten their health and safety," Watson said in a statement last week.

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @DFlessner1.