TVA nominee: utility's problems same as in 1970s

TENNESSEE - President Barack Obama's Tennessee Valley Authority board nominee Neil G. McBride said he was surprised about how little had changed at the nation's largest public utility since the 1970s.

McBride, a public interest lawyer in Oak Ridge, said when he was concentrating on the TVA in the 1970s, problems included poor decision-making practices, environmental issues arising from coal use and modest programs to reduce demand for electricity.

"I was really preparing to be out of date when I started with these issues during the past year," he said. "For better or for worse, almost all those issues are still there."

"The whole question of TVA culture, how they look at long-range environmental issues and the appropriate way of dealing with energy efficiency at the residential level — those are clearly unresolved," McBride said.

McBride, 63, was nominated along with Barbara Haskew, an economics professor at Middle Tennessee State University and a former manager of the rate staff at the TVA.

Obama has yet to announce nominations for two other vacancies on the nine-member board.

Steve Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said both nominees appear to "very capable and competent," though McBride is best known for his consumer advocacy and Haskew is largely unknown in clean energy circles.

Smith said he would have preferred nominees with a higher profile in the environmental field, especially after the TVA's massive coal ash spill in Tennessee in December.

"Does this signal that the administration is making environmental leadership and renewables and clean energy — a lot of things (Obama) campaigned on — a high priority?" he said. "To be honest with you, I don't think these individuals reflect that perspective."

But Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who was involved in the nomination process along with the state's Democratic congressional delegation, said both nominees are knowledgeable about issues of renewable energy.

"Helping lead the nation in ways to effectively and commercially produce green energy is one of the things TVA ought to be doing," Bredesen said. "And I hope these two board members can help push that forward."

The TVA, which was created in the 1930s to bring prosperity to an impoverished region, delivers power to about 9 million people in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

McBride is the general counsel for the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. He began his legal career as a staff attorney with consumer advocate Ralph Nader in Washington. While on Nader's staff he worked on a 1971 project exposing industrial pollution in Savannah, Ga.

James Fallows, who wrote the resulting book "The Water Lords," called McBride "an excellent lawyer and writer (and) a good humored and selfless colleague."

"It's great to think that he will have this new opportunity to work on the long-term interests of the Tennessee Valley," said Fallows, now a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly.

Haskew has held teaching and administrative positions at MTSU for more than 20 years, including as dean of the College of Business and as vice president and provost. She previously worked at TVA for eight years developing wholesale and retail rates.

"My roots are deep in this region and I know how important TVA and its activities are to the valley," she said in an e-mailed response.

TVA Chairman Mike Duncan, a former head of the Republican National Committee, said in statement he was pleased by the nominations.

"The backgrounds of these individuals in business and public policy as well as their experience as residents and citizens of the Tennessee Valley will add broader depth and expertise to the board," he said.

McBride said he expects to find common ground with other board members despite their ideological differences.

"My observation of the current board is they have more interest in encouraging sound long-term policies for TVA than people might realize," said.

Still, he said, the new members will seek to push TVA in the direction of Obama's energy policies as the TVA tries to cope with aging coal plants, costs arising from finding better ways to process fly ash and the effects of any limits on carbon emissions.


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