Country’s Largest Federal Utility Skirted House Committee Inquiries
WASHINGTON— Clean energy groups urged a congressional committee today to call Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Jeffrey Lyash before an oversight hearing to answer questions about the massive public utility’s business practices, including its financing of anti-environment trade groups.
In a letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, the Center for Biological Diversity, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Energy Alabama and other organizations said TVA’s responses to the committee’s Jan. 13 letter were inadequate.
“TVA officials have gotten a pass on their shady business practices for too long, and it’s time for them to be called to account,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, energy justice campaigner with the Center. “It’s bad enough that this massive public utility is blocking climate action and shirking its responsibility to serve Tennessee Valley communities with affordable, renewable energy. Now it’s skirting important questions from a key congressional committee. TVA’s customers deserve real answers, and Congress has to hold TVA accountable.”
In their letter to TVA, House committee members said they were concerned that its business practices might violate “statutory requirements to the disadvantage of TVA’s ratepayers and the environment.” The committee requested information about TVA’s high electricity bills, underinvestment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, deficient decarbonization commitments, and the extent to which ratepayer funds are being “spent on lobbying or litigation opposing public health and welfare regulations.”
“TVA’s lackluster response to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s letter absolutely warrants an oversight hearing,” said Maggie Shober, research director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “The people of the Tennessee Valley deserve low-cost energy efficiency and renewables from its public utility that can be held accountable, not empty words about its aspirations from overpaid executives. Instead of planning to lead on decarbonization, TVA is too focused in its rearview mirror, while its energy resource plans reflect a dramatic slowdown in the emission reductions sorely needed for a prosperous future.”
TVA spends millions of dollars collected from ratepayers to fund outside groups that regularly fight against consumer and environmental protections. For example, it pays the Edison Electric Institute $500,000 every year. EEI teaches utility executives how to fight local clean energy policies, promotes higher fixed charges on customers, and works to undermine competition that could lead to lower prices.
TVA has also contributed millions to the Utility Air Regulatory Group, which lobbied against environmental regulations, including rules for the safe disposal of coal ash.
“TVA has been bad with math for some time, as most customers’ wallets can attest, but an 80% carbon reduction by 2035 is not a 100% reduction,” said Daniel Tait, chief operating officer of Energy Alabama. “TVA cannot sprinkle their magic fairy dust to make up the final 20%, and it certainly cannot do it with new gas.”
TVA is fighting a 2021 lawsuit that would compel the utility to address a 2020 petition seeking to prevent ratepayer funds from subsidizing its lobbying and advocacy work. The utility asked a federal court in Tennessee to dismiss the case and find the federal agency immune from its responsibility to respond to citizen petitions.
In a response this week, clean energy groups said TVA has no such exemption. A federal judge is expected to rule on the case later this year.
In December the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission launched a process to consider changing utility accounting practices so utilities can no longer easily pass trade association advocacy costs along to their customers.
TVA is a federally owned corporation and the country’s largest public power provider. It generates electricity for more than 10 million customers in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Since 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has worked to promote responsible and equitable energy choices to ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.
Energy Alabama is a membership-based nonprofit organization accelerating Alabama’s transition to sustainable energy. We accomplish our mission by educating at all levels, informing smart energy policy, building the next generation workforce, and providing technical assistance to deploy more sustainable energy. We believe in sustainable energy for all.