TVA the hidden-away federal agency
February 16, 2010
“TVA doesn’t affect me”, you might say, far away from the Southeast maybe in Wyoming or Texas. Friend, you would be wrong in that belief.
There is nothing in the federal government like the TVA, no agency or department with the same awesome power to dictate its no-appeal rulings that affect millions of Americans. “In America?” you might say, yes, right here in America.
Coupled with its “eminent domain” power to take your property, TVA then determines how best to use that property. It might be for a commercial venture that no one voted on or a land swap deal similar to the Rep. Heath Shuler D-NC deal where his company stood to increase land values by millions.
For years, TVA “made money” on such land sales and sweetheart swaps. TVA still owns nearly 200,000 acres of land that should be disposed of in a legal manner. But not in accord with the Kelo decision of the Supreme Court which likely will be overturned; dozens of states have passed or are in the process of passing laws to prohibit transactions like Kelo.
The people at least have the ability to change abusive laws but in the case of the TVA with its Star Chamber secret and unappealable rulings, there is no chance for any state or local government to overturn their decisions. TVA’s ruling that a rate increase becomes effective in “X” number of days cannot be appealed. Neither Congress nor the Executive Branch of government can appeal any of TVA’s rulings.
How, you may ask, does this maverick federal agency continue its 76 year-old existence? Well, one reason is that the good people in other states do not believe it affects them. It was not until the Kingston ash-dam disaster did TVA appear on the radar screen. For all intents and purposes, TVA simply did not exist for most until now.
TVA has its own retirement system, determines its own pay scales which in many cases are far above regular federal employees’ rates. TVA has a bonus system that can and does yo-yo up and down with no logical rhyme or reason and is very careless with the monies under its control.
TVA likes to pretend it is a stock-owned utility when it sells no shares; inadvertently, one of nominees at the senate hearing last week referred to TVA “shareholders”. It dabbles in market financing and is very deep underwater in its financial abilities.
TVA is now in the midst of another “reorganization” and one of its features is to hire more people when in fact if were to act like a real business it would be cutting overhead staff significantly. Never known for its nimbleness in the marketplace, TVA always is slow to react to any kind of emergency and never has been “ahead of the curve” where market-driven utilities must stay.
Immediately after the Kingston catastrophe, I recommended that the TVA share no part in its cleanup, the “making right” the mess caused by the TVA. Instead, TVA went ahead and it became obvious that the job was far above any capabilities of the TVA so another federal agency, EPA was put in charge.
Well, this pair of ineptitudes proceeded to make decisions of far reaching consequences. They both decided it would be a good thing to dispose of the toxic ash wastes in another state, Alabama, and now the company handling the contract has gone bankrupt. The toxicity grows.
The obvious and first decision was what to do with the waste; the obvious and best decision should have been to place the ash on other TVA property which readily is available. (That ultimately may be the decision in light of the disastrous mistakes already made by the TVA and EPA.)
It will be up to the full senate committee to thoroughly flush out the four nominees to fill the remaining part-time slots on the TVA board. Here are a few questions I’d like to ask each one of them.
- How do you justify the anti-competitiveness inherent in the TVA? Is not ours a market economy?
- Do you intend to develop policies that would tend to make TVA more business-like? And why.
- In the past, TVA said it was preparing for its eventual privatization; are you familiar with the plans and are you for or against the privatization of the TVA?
- In the sub-committee hearing, several of you seemed unaware of the number of major court cases in process or that are pending. Do you believe that TVA should appeal every ruling against it when the right thing to do would be to proceed to following court orders?
- Do you believe TVA’s right to “sue and be sued” is a proper role for a government agency?
- Do you believe that TVA has the constitutional right to set unappealable electricity rates?
- What impact do you believe you will have on the newly constituted TVA board?
- Do you believe that TVA should follow the openness rules laid out by the Office of Management and Budget?
- In your mind, can there really be a hybrid agency like the TVA that effectively is neither private nor government? Should TVA be abolished or retained in a non-power capacity?
Please prepare your written answers to each of these questions.
That would be it for me; those answers would lead me to making the correct choice or choices if I were voting on these nominees.
TVA, a federal agency, affects every American and every decision TVA makes affects all of us in some way.
February 22, 2014
Shades of “1984″! Orwell’s novel of the future is with us in spirit even today. Somebody at the FCC (nobody seems to know who) thought it would be a good idea to check out newsrooms in the country to be sure that left-thinking was not left out.
The media should have been outraged but only Fox thought it serious enough to call their hand on press freedom, press intimidation, in addition to one outspoken FCC commissioner. The Commission quickly backed away but not completely, leaving hanging out there the real possibility of revisiting the idea later.
I’m thinking how close our society is from complete intimidation by the government, snooping in on the most intimate of details. Now what I’m talking about is taking it to the individual (the NSA has already done this to a considerable extent) and to hush all opposition to government power. A chilling thought.
There are present ways, however, to squelch free speech and that is by throwing roadblocks to discourage criticism. An example concerns the TVA’s FOIA methods. All TVA has to do is to make the charge for getting documents so expensive, so onerous, as to make it practically impossible for an individual to retrieve such documents.
In other instances, the media itself makes it cost prohibitive to obtain content from them unless you subscribe or, in one significant case of the Chattanooga Free Press, not even taking comments anymore. Is that a “free press”? Others make it so difficult to interact with the media that only the persistent break through.
The media in TVA’s territory has “rolled over” and only presents a regurgitation of TVA “news,” according to TVA. One brave Kentucky legislator has challenged TVA’s transparency of board meetings. That trickle of opposition, hopefully, will turn into a torrent of dissatisfactions with TVA’s operations.
I’m rereading “1984″ to pick out the immediate analogies to today’s society. Is it time to “hunker down” and wait for better times? I think not; the present oppressiveness needs to be challenged with every fearless ounce of courage we can muster. We can no longer depend on a submissive “free press” to do its constitutionally granted job.
Unionization 101 – no thanks! On VW’s rejection of the UAW
February 21, 2014
Somewhat wistfully, I have read that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison pitched the purchase/lease of the partially finished Wilson dam and other facilities at Muscle Shoals in 1922 or 1923. Ford stated he wanted to build the “Detroit of the South,” and the South went wild with land speculation.
The only thing holding the deal back, you’d never guess, Nebraska Sen. George W. Norris (R), the so-called savior of the South. In his powerful position in the senate, Norris said he wanted the operation to be run by government, not private enterprise.
Sen. Norris got his way and glommed on to FDR’s (D) plan to governmentize everything in sight. The TVA Act of 1933 was the first thing FDR signed into law to reward Norris the Republican for his support.
Ironically, the VW rejection of the union topped 80 years of government control of the South and it does not bode well for TVA to much longer survive. In another bit of irony, FDR was vehemently opposed to the unionization of public employees (about the only thing that was sensible.) Look at Detroit now and other public entities in deep, deep debt because of union control.
My uncle, a Democrat and former legislator in Alabama, (I loved him dearly,) and I did not see eye-to-eye on unionization primarily from an early experience I had with a labor union. The CWA had some phone installation work in Montgomery and I was hired not really knowing what the union was about. I went to the next union meeting and discovered to my amazement that it did not concern anything about the CWA or its supportive activities but it was a call for felonious acts on company property.
“Who’ll volunteer to cut down telephone poles south of town?” And the calls for malicious action on various other important phone company properties went on until all the “jobs” were filled. Of course, there was the usual call for picketers. I wanted no involvement with that group of anarchists.
Another instance at work dealt with a union member maliciously shorting out a bank of telephone circuits with a long screwdriver (which not could have been done accidentally) and he was summarily fired. But not for long; the union got him reinstated.
Observing the union scene for many years and watching how thugs constantly disrupt business, sub-rosa or out in the open, unions finally drain the substance out of businesses until they go bankrupt, leave the country or stop fighting and close up shop.
FDR was right on one thing, public employees should never be unionized.
It is all about “demand,” which means demand for electricity and the article by Ed Marcum of the Knoxville Sentinel tries to lessen the blow of declining sales, the bugaboo of all industrial manufacturing. The only thing is that TVA is no ordinary company whose fate rests on sales of its product. If only TVA could see the stark reality of what would be done under ordinary industrial manufacturing circumstances instead of whimpering to (sob, sob) mother Washington, then TVA would be among the largest manufacturers in America and prepared to take its lumps.
But TVA has such a colossal fixed cost it never could buy or produce its way out to a reasonable breakeven point, much less to profitability. Look way back some 80 years ago when the strange TVA was formed with the soul of southern states hanging in the balance. That balance leans more than ever to a leftward socialistic society.
But the writers of that legislation new what they were doing with enticements of jobs and the wily payments in lieu of taxes gambit. Soon, almost the complete state of Tennessee was brought under the spell of federal money. Other states became pawns in the game of federal government control and their politicians promising more jobs and money.
The principle of a separation of powers was blown to bits with the enactment of the TVA Act of 1933. TVA was recognized decades ago as an anomaly of the Constitution (which was never ruled on by the Supreme Court as to TVA’s constitutionality) but the leaders then, while acknowledging the breakdown, saw weak politicians (among some now,) rejecting the idea of our entrepreneurial system of government, at least in TVA’s case.
The continual declining of electricity sales (since 2007?) for TVA means the colossal collapse of the faulty framework of the TVA. There’s no place for TVA to go but to go begging because of its legal makeup.
TVA – and the worm turns toward 2014
December 13, 2013
HO! HO! HO! And a Merry Christmas to you all!
You won’t hear that greeting or any other greeting of holiday joy from the TVA. Secular to the core, TVA is not supposed to have any kind of humanistic feelings especially at times like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
Then why do we bow to a monolithic non-entity such as TVA? Part of it is because of TVA’s domineering and intrusive presence in the lives of about 9 million citizens in the southeast. Its intimidation goes “hat-in-hand” deep; it even extends to the media. TVA’s autonomy as a federal agency makes it unique among all agencies in the federal hierarchy.
There are three major newspapers in Tennessee; Knoxville News Sentinel, Chattanooga Times Free Press, and the Tennessean in Nashville. Each of them in their own way squelch critics of TVA. KNS recently instigated a policy of “no commenting” without a paid subscription, the Free Press stopped receiving comments, period. These head-in-sand reactions deprive citizens of other points of view about TVA.
TVA news from these publications are read from coast to coast because TVA news affects energy decisions everywhere but comments about TVA are not elicited. Is this a form of censorship? I believe it is and I have some personal experiences which confirm that.
TVA itself is a national issue but is treated like a local
organization. TVA is, in fact, controlled by the president of the United States through a board of directors appointed by the president. Since 1933 when the TVA Act was passed, TVA has been transmogrified from one iteration to another to suit the whims of the directors and the president. Today, it’s “green” energy, tomorrow, who knows what.
Challenged by the Supreme Court, but not for its constitutionality, TVA has maintained its hold on the political class because of its so-called payments in lieu of taxes, bribery money paid directly to local and state governments avoiding state taxing laws. Alabama Gov. Riley once called the payments “slush funds.” This usurpation and warping of state power in seven southeastern states
has led to an accurately stated degree of “creeping socialism.”
It’s for the good of a “greener” society that it has tried to fool people into buying non-existent electricity by the “block.” Of course, TVA is glad to receive these donations from some of TVA’s gullible ratepayers at $4 per block of nothing; TVA is glad to receive that money; it’s just added to the customers’ monthly electric bill. And TVA adds it to the “mix” of their enormous expense budget. Why not call the GPS a “fee” and simply prorate the appropriate amount based on use? After all, everyone must pay their “fair share” for greenness’ sake.
When a correspondent told of finally realizing he had been duped by TVA and having paid several hundred dollars into the Green Power Switch program, he asked for his money back. We’ll follow his progress. The problem TVA has is trying to sell a “product” that is nonexistent. Translated in the vernacular, it’s a fraud.
Congratulations are in order to those who have challenged the Goliath TVA because of a breach of trust in TVA’s handling of lakeside properties and to those who challenged TVA’s heavy-handed way of handling the right-of way-clearance. Every dollar they spent is a monument to the fight for freedom from government; from government over control. And thanks for the perseverance of those suing TVA for the Kingston negligence debacle in Dec. 2008.
For those of you who wish to correspond with me, send an e-mail to email@example.com/
The 90 years of pent up excitement in a much smaller way has happened with TVA’s willingness to sell a bit of the 3000 acres of the TVA Reservation. For it was back then that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison promised a “Detroit of the South.”
They proposed using Wilson Dam, partially completed then, for electricity and the unused munitions properties to build the plant. Ask some old timers how the land speculation in the valley went wild.
Sen. George W. Norris NE (R), however, had a different idea. He wanted the property to remain in government hands and blocked all of Ford and Edison’s attempts to negotiate a sale. Then Norris joined with FDR to form the TVA in 1933. And, of course, the rest is history.
For 80 years the land on which the negotiations were about, lay substantially fallow. Look how long it took Muscle Shoals property to become saleable again because of Alabama’s adverse posession laws.
Could this be the beginning of the selloff of hundreds of thousands of acres of surplus TVA land? If it is, then TVA should not use the proceeds from the Reservation sale or other sales to finance TVA but to go directly to the Treasury Dept.
TVA Green Power Switch – Illegal donations?
August 24, 2013
In the spring issue of Green Power Switch news, the editor pleads for electricity customers to lean on power company employees to promote the Green Power Switch program. Is that ethical?
Clearly, the GPS program immediately should be abolished to stop the fraud it has placed on TVA customers/ratepayers. And to ask them to further the fraud is itself a fraud I believe.
You be the judge:
TVA encourages the purchase of imaginary electricity at a madeup price for “blocks” of imaginary electricity
- Misrepresenting that these “blocks” of imaginary electricity somehow inures to the customers’ benefit
- That, in effect, TVA has devised a way to fool a small number of people into buying these “blocks” of imaginary electricity for what customers may think goes only for “green energy”
- TVA refuses to fully account for all of the monies received through the Green Power Switch program
- The GPS funds received by TVA only fractionally help subsidize TVA’s larger subsidized programs such as the Green Power Providers
- The Green Power Switch program is abetted, perhaps unwittingly, by a 3rd party certifier that the GPS program is in fact “green”
- TVA’s Office of the Inspector General, through a small survey about the GPS but will not revel its substance; the OIG remains the reporting contact with the 3rd party “green” certifier
The sum and subsistence of the GPS program since the year 2000 has been fradulently to misrepresent a voluntary program to subsidize TVA itself. The GPS funds from TVA customers properly should be classified as donations, not as purchases but of course, that would be illegal.
Induced through cajoling “green” aspiring TVA customers into the donations, TVA has continued to foster this fraud by claiming they are selling something (actually nothing) for money. This money properly should be refunded to those ratepayers. The donations should be declared income tax deductible. This places TVA, a federal government agency, in the awkward position of illegally asking for money through the ruse of selling imaginary electricity, or at least recognizing the GPS donations for what they are, donations.
This fraudlent act of selling “nothing” for “something” by TVA should be prosecuted to the fullest extent; in addition, a complete refund of GPS money should be offered to all who have been fraudlently induced into the program.
“Purchase” or donation? You decide.
TVA – puny outlook at best
May 6, 2013
Sounds like even with a cheery note at the end of the conference call on Friday, May 3, CEO Bill Johnson and CFO John Thomas did not make the sale. With many mumbo-jumbo answers by John Thomas, many comparisons that made no difference, the upshot of the entire conference call was moaning about declining sales, sales that cannot sustain TVA costs.
TVA reflects the national economy and the overall economy is trending lower. Why is a shift so important to TVA? There is no “wiggle room” for TVA; it spends all it takes in and relies more and more for the ever-increasing debt to fill the gap. Borrow more, short term or long and it is ultimately the same thing to TVA
Nevertheless, more importantly, TVA’s ratepayers are faced with probable ever-increasing electricity rates, as the mandated $30 billion borrowing cap looms closer. TVA claims their production assets do not exceed their debt, however that cannot be stated with certainty; TVA does not really know what the market will bear. Anyway, bids on TVA’s money producing assets are subject to negotiation.
TVA has proved it is not very good at forecasting (there is no penalty for doing it badly) and has most of the present debt to show for it. The prescient forecaster came from a foreigner, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political writer and philosopher, effectively pegged what America would be 150 years later.
Tocqueville, however, did not envision the anomalous TVA. However, he did write about the evils of socialism and how it deprived citizens of their freedom. So, if we open our eyes and ears to how America operates, there should be no problem in liquidating TVA.
Anyway, the upshot of the PR conference was to bemoan a lack of sales and the need for more money. Doesn’t seem like the TVA “model” Chairman Bill Sansom envisioned is working out too well.