Monday, August 17, 2020

Don't Politicize Our TVA

Roger Carlton
Guest writer - Roger Carlton, columnist for The Graham Star newspaper

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was established by Congress in 1933 to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing and economic development in seven states that were heavily impacted by the Great Depression. 

TVA is a business owned by the government. Fiscal 2018 revenues exceeded $11 billion and profits were $1.1 billion. The Board of Directors are nominated by the U.S. President and confirmed by the Senate. The Directors appoint the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). All in all, this construct provides a nice balance and has worked extraordinarily well for the southern Appalachian region and its people.

So why would the White House fire the Chair of the Board and a board member? The ostensible reason was a decision by TVA to lay-off more than 100 contract workers and outsource the function to three big companies including Accenture, Capgemini and CGI who make their billions using many foreign workers. This political misstep followed TVA's decision last year to shut down two coal fired power plants despite undelivered 2016 campaign promises to rebuild the coal industry. 

Terrible timing right before an election in which the plight of 30 million potential voters who are unemployed and suffering greatly will certainly impact the outcome of the election. Perhaps this public flogging of an agency that provides service in some deeply red states over losing jobs might have something to do with the re-election campaign.

The White House also threatened to pack the Board with members who would in turn fire TVA CEO Jeff Lyash while making great hay over his $8 million salary. A government employee making $8 million even though he runs a multi-billion profitable enterprise doesn't play well in an election year.

To save the day, Lyash and his new Board Chair jumped on one of TVA's corporate jets and supplicated their way into the Oval Office. On second thought they said, the outsourcing deal might not be the best approach and the 100 jobs were saved. Everyone declared victory and there is peace in the valley - at least the Tennessee Valley.

So, what does all this mean to the people of Graham County? TVA owns Fontana Dam and leases out the operation of Fontana Resort. The recent closure of Fontana Resort by our local operators due to the impacts of COVID 19 required the rapid location of a new operator. TVA's business-like approach has allowed the retention of a new operator to happen quickly and the 2020 tourist season will be saved along with a lot of jobs. If TVA ran like a bureaucracy, we would be lucky to have a new operator by the summer of 2021.

While TVA does not own Cheoah and Santeetlah dams, it controls the spillways in order to regulate the flow of water during potential flood situations. This is important because all three dams in Graham County are part of a system that must be operated by expert hydrologists and weather forecasters in a cohesive, regional data-based manner. This is very important to Graham Countians. Politicizing an organization that has the awesome responsibilities assigned to TVA is a great mistake.

In some small way, TVA's CEO deserves an apology for the bashing he took over salary.  A division of a multi-billion-dollar Canadian company, Brookfield Renewable Corporation, owns our two dams and Lake Santeetlah. They do a good job by and large. By way of comparison, the CEO of the Brookfield division that owns our dams, Sachin Shah, made $3.8 million in 2018 and roughly $12.6 million in 2019. That is serious money even by TVA standards.



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