President Joe Biden, who is still seeking confirmation for three TVA directors he proposed 14 months ago, has responded to Republican appeals for more representatives from Kentucky and Mississippi by nominating a county judge executive in Kentucky and a former mayor in Mississippi for the governing board of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The White House announced the newest appointments to the nine-member TVA board Friday among nine nominations sent to the U.S. Senate for a variety of federal agency jobs. The newest nominees — Adam "Wade" White, of Lyon County, Kentucky, and William Renick Sr., of Pontotoc, Mississippi — are backed by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Mississippi Republican Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, who urged Biden to put representatives from their states on the TVA board before the U.S. Senate confirms more nominees from Tennessee.
The governing board for TVA is currently comprised of individuals from Tennessee and Georgia after the five-year terms of former TVA board members in Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama expired. Only five of the nine seats on the TVA governing board are filled, and three of those directors could leave TVA by the end of the year, leaving the authority with just two board members and no quorum unless the Senate acts to confirm at least some of Biden's nominees this year.
Nearly a year and a half after taking office, Biden has yet to get anyone confirmed as a TVA director, and the board remains comprised entirely of appointees by former President Donald Trump.
In April 2021, less than three months after taking office, Biden nominated four new people for the TVA board, including two environmental leaders, the first labor union official to be proposed for the board and the first Black chairman of the Huntsville, Alabama, Chamber of Commerce, who later withdrew her name for the TVA post to run instead for the Alabama state Senate.
Getting the U.S. Senate to confirm the three remaining appointments has been delayed while GOP leaders urged the Biden White House to ensure greater geographic diversity in the makeup of the TVA board across the utility's seven-state region.
Appeal for local directors
"Geographic representation is not new, and we know that this is important to get good decision-making," U.S. Sen. Shelly Capito, R- West Virginia, said during a TVA confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
The TVA Act was revamped in 2005 to replace the former three-member full-time management board with a nine-member part-time policy-setting board. The board members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Although there are no geographic representation requirements for the board members, historically, the board has had members from various states across the Tennessee Valley. Although most of the current or proposed TVA directors have no work experience in the power or utility industry, they each have experience working on public policy and business issues in their respective states.
Wicker and Hyde-Smith, the Mississippi Republican senators, praised the nomination of Mississippi native Renick to the board.
"It is imperative that our state's interests always be represented within TVA," the two Mississippi senators said in a joint statement. "Bill has a proven record of serving our state first in public office and then as a business and economic development leader."
Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, of Nettleton, also praised the nomination.
"While we fought for two seats on the TVA board, Bill Renick's abilities, tenacity and work ethic will mean that Mississippi's voice will be heard loud and clear," Presley said.
Renick, who served for the past 13 years as the workforce division director at the Three Rivers Planning and Development District in Pontotoc, Mississippi, is chairman of the Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi.
McConnell voiced support for nominee White, who he urged the White House to nominate a Kentucky representative to the TVA board.
"He is the first Kentuckian nominated for the TVA board under this administration and will bring a unique bluegrass perspective to the job," McConnell said in a statement. "Wade and I have worked together closely for years on issues like Barkley Dam, Land Between the Lakes and Asian carp."
White was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in 2016, and two years later, he initiated the "War on Carp" as Asian carp were entering and damaging Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.
Senate delays confirmation
Last year, Biden also nominated as TVA directors Beth Geer, the former chief of staff to former Vice President Al Gore; Michelle Moore, a sustainability team leader in the administration of former President Barack Obama who now heads a nonprofit organization that promotes solar energy; and Robert "Bobby" Klein, a retired EPB lineman electrician who was a leader in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union and lives in Chattanooga. The three nominees who reside in Tennessee and Virginia appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in early April, but the Senate panel has yet to schedule a confirmation vote for the TVA nominees.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she will oppose Geer because of a tweet in 2015 when she posted "hideous" after Ernst's Republican response to the State of the Union address by Obama.
Ernst, a former company commander in Kuwait who is now a lieutenant colonel for the Iowa Army National Guard and the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate, 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 like 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 an April hearing, "but this is not Iowa nice, and I'm calling you out."
With the addition of nominees from Kentucky and Mississippi supported by Republican senators in those states, a confirmation vote on the TVA board appointments appears more likely.
TVA quorum threatened
TVA operated its most recent quarterly board meeting May 11 with five members out of a possible nine seats. Since then, the terms of board members A.D. Frazier, of Mineral Bluff, Georgia, and Jeff Smith, of Knoxville, have expired, although those directors may continue to serve for the balance of 2022 unless their successors are confirmed.
Separately, TVA Director Beth Harwell, a former Tennessee House Speaker, is running for a newly drawn congressional seat in Tennessee and, if elected, she also would have to give up her position on TVA's board by the end of the year.
Without a board quorum, TVA would be restricted in adopting new policies or making major corporate decisions other than keeping the utility running, according to TVA officials.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340.