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Photo by Dave Flessner / Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw appears in front of TVA's headquarters in downtown Knoxville along with her supporters from the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement, a group of young voters working to make climate change an urgent priority.

This story was updated on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2020 at 4:31 p.m. with additional information.

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Valley Authority, which in recent years has gotten far less Congressional attention than in the past, came into the crosshairs of rapid-fire attacks from U.S. Senate candidates in Tennessee as early voting in the race began Wednesday.

During a campaign rally with her environmental backers outside of TVA's headquarters on Tuesday, Democratic Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw blasted the federal utility for its environmental record, outsourcing of jobs and executive pay levels and profits.

"TVA has abandoned the public good that spurred its creation," Bradshaw said. "As the country's largest publicly owned utility and an entity with economic development as its original mission, TVA should be the model for public accountability and environmental stewardship. Instead, the opposite is true."

Republican Senate hopeful Bill Hagerty, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan in the Trump administration, agreed with President Trump's criticism of TVA earlier this year for initially moving to outsource information technology jobs, including more than 50 jobs at the TVA computer and data center in Chattanooga. Hagerty campaign spokesman Michael Byerly said TVA's move to replace TVA employees with contract workers "flies in the face" of President Trump's efforts to "put America first" and promote American jobs."

Under pressure from the White House, TVA agreed in August to abandon the outsourcing plan.

"Our power grid is an integral component of our nation's infrastructure and there are significant national security concerns associated with outsourcing any aspect of software or IT management to firms that may be foreign-owned, staffed or otherwise impacted," Byerly said in a statement from the Hagerty campaign. "President Trump is making good on his promise to drain the swamp, and as your next Senator, Bill will continue to work with President Trump to bring our supply chains home and make 'Made in the USA' the theme of our nation once more."

Hagerty issued his critical comments on TVA's outsourcing move as Bradshaw claimed the GOP nominee had been silent about TVA and supported deregulation moves by the White House that will weaken environmental protections.

Bradshaw recalled her grandmother's battle with cancer living close to a superfund site in South Memphis and said those experiences led her into her activism and her support for the Green New Deal, a plan to make electricity generation carbon-free.

"After decades of polluting the air in East Tennessee, TVA allowed the largest coal ash spill in U.S. history to happen under its watch," Bradshaw said. "It took EPA years to finally pass new regulations to keep communities safe from future coal ash spills and toxic metals in coal ash. But TVA never made a single change with operations based on the new regulations. Instead, it celebrated with the current administration when it paused and eventually rolled back the new regulations altogether."

In 2015, the Obama administration put in place the federal government's first comprehensive regulations for disposing of the residue left after coal is burned. The rule set minimum standards for monitoring groundwater near coal plants, set public record keeping and disclosure requirements, and told utilities to phase out unlined ash ponds.

Under the Trump administration, the EPA rolled back some of the limits proposed during the Obama administration on coal ash disposal, which EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said was "more sensible" and would "continue to encourage appropriate beneficial use" of coal.

TVA spent more than $1 billion to clean up the 2008 coal ash spill at the Kingston Coal Plant and is spending even more to phase out all of its wet coal ash storage and to limit both air and water pollution at its remaining coal plants after permanently shutting down its Shawnee, Widows Creek, Colbert, Paradise, New Johnsonville and Allen Fossil plants over the past decade and a half.

But Bradshaw said the agency "is still too reliant on fossil fuels" for its power generation. The Democratic Senate nominee also urged TVA to do more to compensate workers injured in the cleanup of the Kingston coal ash spill and to protect TVA's own workers from losing their jobs to foreign outsourcing.

"TVA abandoned its workers by trying to outsource jobs overseas, all while the CEO [TVA President Jeff Lyash] raked in over $8 million a year," she said. "We can expect this type of corruption from a private corporation, but seeing this action by a federally owned corporation is unconscionable. They have violated the public trust."

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

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