Citizen Petition Would Stop Nation’s Largest Public Utility From Paying Ratepayer Money to Anti-Environment Groups
Knoxville, Tennessee — The Center for Biological Diversity and allies sued the Tennessee Valley Authority today over millions of dollars in ratepayer money the public utility diverts to anti-environmental advocacy groups like the Edison Electric Institute and the Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition. The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee, seeks an order compelling the utility to address a 2020 petition and supporting evidence seeking to regulate this kind of spending.
The petition detailed how these and other trade associations litigate and lobby to delay the critical transition to clean energy, hamper efforts to combat the climate emergency, and deny protections to imperiled wildlife. For example, TVA paid approximately $200,000 to the Utility Water Act Group, which opposes Clean Water Act protections, in 2018 alone; it pays dues of around $500,000 each year to be a member of the Edison Electric Institute, which similarly advocates against decarbonization. TVA, the petition asserted, is violating its customers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to fund these groups.
So far the utility has refused to address the issue.
“Our communities already shoulder among the highest energy burdens in the country,” said Marquita Bradshaw, executive director of Sowing Justice. “It adds insult to injury for TVA to be sending ratepayer funds to groups that are directly undermining the urgent transition away from the fossil fuel plants disparately impacting frontline communities.”
“As the nation’s largest public power provider and a federal agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority needs to demonstrate leadership by halting the financing of groups propping up the fossil fuel economy,” said Howard Crystal, legal director at the Center’s Energy Justice program. “Instead it funds these groups to do its dirty work while it moves forward with building new fossil gas plants. TVA can and must do better.”
“TVA has forced its customers to make political speech by taking money from their utility bills and using it for anti-clean energy advocacy,” said Daniel Tait, chief operating officer of Energy Alabama. “We have repeatedly called on the TVA inspector general to investigate this misuse of customer funds but after hearing and seeing nothing, we felt compelled to act.”
“TVA ratepayers want energy freedom,” said Glen Brand, director of policy and advocacy for Solar United Neighbors. “TVA shouldn’t be using their money to take that freedom away. It should use that money to help them save money and take control of where their electricity comes from with rooftop solar energy. It shouldn’t be shoveling it to monopoly utility front groups like the Edison Electric Institute.”
“TVA is unique in the power industry in that environmental stewardship and economic development are codified in the agency’s founding mission,” said Maggie Shober, director of utility reform at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It is imperative that the largest public power utility operate with accountability and transparency, stop funding anti-environment and anti-green jobs work, and invest in clean energy that will support the health of the Valley and the people who depend on it.”
Today’s suit follows a separate petition the Center filed earlier this year before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concerning private utility funding of these same groups. That petition, which is pending, would amend FERC’s Uniform System of Accounts to make these payments presumptively non-recoverable from ratepayers, which would force utilities to either demonstrate how funding these groups is in the public interest or provide this funding from shareholders rather than ratepayers.
These initiatives are part of a growing movement against the longstanding practice of allowing utilities to charge ratepayers for advocacy that serves the utility’s own interests rather than ratepayers. This includes a recent decision from Kentucky utility regulators denying ratepayer recovery for EEI dues, and a new New York law that precludes utilities from recovering for payments to trade groups engaged in lobbying.
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, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has worked to promote responsible and equitable energy choices to ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast.