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For the first time in nearly three years, the Tennessee Valley Authority may soon have all of its presidential appointed leaders in place to oversee America's biggest government utility.

East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland and former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, nominated by President Trump to fill the two vacancies on TVA's 9-member board, and assistant attorney general Katherine Crytzer, nominated by Trump to serve as TVA's inspector general, gained the support of U.S. senators Tuesday during their confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The U.S. Senate is expected to confirm the nominees in time for Dr. Noland and Dr. Harwell to join the TVA board at the next board meeting in August when TVA directors will set the fiscal 2021 budget.

Both Noland and Harwell voiced support for TVA continuing to explore the next generation of nuclear power by studying the possibility of building small modular reactors in Oak Ridge, as urged by U.S. Sen. Sen. Mike Braun,R-Indiana, the chair of the Senate panel that oversees TVA. The federal utility is working with both the Department of Energy in Oak Ridge and the University of Tennessee to consider building the new smaller reactors on the Clinch River near the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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Dr. Brian Noland / Contributed photo

"TVA has a very diverse energy portfolio and nuclear energy plays a very important role in that," said Harwell, a 62-year-old Nashville Republican who served in the state Legislature for 20 years and has taught at both Lipscomb University and Middle Tennessee State University.

"I feel that it's important that TVA continue to work to diversify its portfolio and central to that is working in the nuclear space," said Noland, a 52-year-old graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville who has headed East Tennessee State University since 2012 after previously serving for six years as chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education System.

While backing the potential of more nuclear power from small modular reactors, Noland and Harwell also both voiced support for more renewable power such as solar and wind where it makes economic sense. At the urging of U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, Del., the TVA board nominees pledged to work to go beyond even TVA's state goal of generating 70% of its power from carbon-free sources by 2030.

If approved by the U.S. Senate, Noland and Harwell will fill the two board vacancies created when the terms of two former TVA directors nominated by President Obama — Democrats Virginia Lodge and Ron Walter — officially ended on Jan. 3.

TVA is governed by a 9-member board appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. senate. TVA directors, who serve five-year terms, select the utility's CEO and top management.

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In this Jan. 23, 2018, file photo, Republican Beth Harwell addresses the audience during the Gubernatorial Forum on Education at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. (George Walker IV/The Tennessean via AP, Pool, File)

The president also appoints the inspector general at TVA to serve as an independent watchdog and auditor of TVA activities and programs.

Trump nominated Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katherine Crytzer to head the Office of Inspector General at TVA, a post that has been vacant for two and a half years since former TVA IG Richard Moore left TVA in 2017 to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, along with Sen. Carper, urged Crytzer to remain independent of President Trump and other politicians who backed her nomination. Trump has fired four inspector generals at other federal agencies, which Whitehouse fears could have a chilling effect on the independence of IG offices is they act contrary to the president's wishes.

"TVA must be guided by the facts and the interests of its consumers, not by political pressure," Whitehouse said, noting how Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had urged TVA to keep its aging Paradise coal plant open in Kentucky. "The fossil fuel industry can't help but meddle in this issues."

Crytzer declined to address the dismissal of other inspectors general, but she vowed to be independent and objective in her work, if she is confirmed for the TVA job.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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