U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday TVA could be destroyed if it remains under the federal government control and suggested that the region’s governors could be better overseers of the agency providing electricity to 9 million people in seven states.
“On most days in Washington, I fear the federal government is going to destroy TVA,” Corker told reporters following a speech to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.
The senator has previously expressed concern about the lack of corporate executive experience on the TVA board of directors, saying its “entire governance structure” needs to be reviewed. On Wednesday, he elaborated on some possible ways of restructuring while stressing “I’m not proposing anything” at this point.
He declined to discuss the merits of five pending appointments to the TVA board by President Obama, including that of former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter, saying he would wait until he and Sen. Lamar Alexander have an opportunity to talk with the Obama nominees.
The nominees are subject to Senate confirmation. Corker noted that, if Republican Mitt Romeny is elected president on Nov. 6, they would likely
not be “real nominations” and never considered. If President Obama wins, the nominations would presumably be taken up after the election.
Corker said TVA has been “a blip on the radar screen” to presidents of both parties and the federal government generally. At another point, he said TVA was “a total pain to the administration.”
In contrast, he said TVA is of vital importance to the economic vitality of the Tennessee valley. While TVA has had low electricity rates in the past, he said the developing situation — including $30 billion in TVA debt — raises the prospect of higher rates in the future that would deter industry investment and expansion.
Corker said he has met “periodically” with executives of “big energy users,” not named, who have growing concerns about that possibility. That has been a motivation for his desire to spur more discussion about the future of TVA’s governance, he said.
“I’ve wondered if the governors wouldn’t care more” about the agency and provide better oversight and leadership, he said.
Asked if he envisioned states overseeing TVA through a compact organization, Corker said, “I’ve wondered if there are different models like that.”
Asked if privatization or sale of TVA would be an option, the senator said privatization would be “a step too far — at present anyway.”
He added that “my thrust is not some backdoor way to try and create” privatized operations of TVA.
Corker said he hopes to “sit down after the election” with interested parties and consider options for TVA governance. He and Alexander are “I think in the same place” insofar as their views on TVA, Corker said.
As for the nominees to the TVA board, Corker said he does not care about the nominees political party, only that they are “good people” to oversee the agency. He noted the nine-member board faces the possibility of not having a quorum of five members by the end of the year.