President Donald Trump on Thursday nominated four new members for the the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority, filling all but one of the vacancies on the nine-member governing board for America's biggest publicly owned utility.
The White House picks were all white men, most of whom are business executives, and come from four of the seven Southeastern states served by TVA.
Jeff Smith, the deputy lab director for operations at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was named to one of the five-year terms open on the board. While at ORNL — the nation's biggest federal research lab — Smith has led a $400 million modernization effort that has given rise to more new construction at the Oak Ridge facilities at any time since the Manhattan Project.
Smith earned immediate praise from both of the Republican senators in Tennessee, which comprises more than two-thirds of TVA's total service region.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called Smith "an outstanding choice" to serve on the TVA board.
"Jeff has worked closely with TVA to support the lab's research missions, and he understands that TVA must continue to provide low cost, clean, and reliable power for homes and businesses throughout the TVA region," Alexander said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Smith "has a unique understanding of the importance of TVA" and he thanked Trump "for moving quickly to fill these important positions."
Trump also nominated a retired coal executive, Kenny Allen of Hopkins County, Ky., who recently retired from the Armstrong Coal Co. in Kentucky. Allen has been critical of EPA rules to limit carbon emissions from power plants, claiming in 2014 that Obama administration proposals would have "a devastating impact on America's economy" and "slam the door shut on an already reeling coal industry."
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised Trump nominating Allen, who McConnell said was "a strong choice" who "is fully equipped to help lead the TVA" as a board member.
"Kenny's experience providing affordable and reliable energy to the people of our home state has given him a deep understanding of the industry, its challenges and its future," McConnell said.
But environmental groups that have supported TVA's shutdown or planned closing of about half of its aging fleet of coal power plants voiced concern about the Kentucky nominee.
"We're not necessarily surprised given Donald Trump's strong support for the coal industry, but it does raise a red flag and we hope that the new nominees will have an open mind and be guided by the facts and the mission of TVA," said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Trump also nominated A.D. Frazier, the former CEO for Invesco Inc., and president of Caremark Rx Inc. in Atlanta, who helped manage the 1977 inauguration of then President Jimmy Carter and served as chief operating officer for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games in 1996.
From Alabama, the White House nominated James R. Thompson III, president and chief executive of corporate billing at the National Commerce Corp., who lives in Decatur, Ala.
The appointments must still be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before the nominees can become TVA directors,. They will replace the current board, which includes three women and two African-Americans, with a new board with just one woman and one black director.
The full TVA board meets quarterly, but board committees meet more often to oversee TVA and chart its direction.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340.
This story was updated Sept. 21 at 11:10 p.m. with more information.