By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Valley Authority’s board voted Monday to delegate certain authority to the utility’s new chief executive in case five of its vacancies aren’t filled before Congress adjourns this month.
The board is made up of nine members and five seats are pending congressional action, including one that’s up for reappointment. Whenever five or more of the seats are vacant, the board lacks a quorum.
The authorizations and delegations approved at a special meeting on Monday would only go into effect if the panel lacks a quorum because of vacancies.
“Our primary objective … is to make sure TVA continues to have flexibility to manage its activities with a maximum effectiveness while the process continues in Washington,” said Board Chairman Bill Sansom.
TVA spokesman Scott Brooks told The Associated Press before Monday’s vote that the new authority allows the CEO to conduct TVA business without the board “in certain critical areas,” such as handling financing arrangements and contracts. The last time TVA operated without a board quorum was in 1999.
Brooks said it’s possible Congress could fill the vacancies before leaving, but the utility is playing it safe because it doesn’t control the process.
“It’s a process,” he said. “It’s always been a process.”
Tennessee Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have criticized the Obama administration for not making the TVA board nominations sooner and say they understand the action the utility has taken, the Chattanooga Times Free Press recently reported.
Obama made one nomination in February and four more in September. However, the Senate has not acted, even though Alexander serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee responsible for moving the nominations.
“Given that delay, the TVA board’s plan to delegate temporary authority is wise and should make sure that the delay causes no problems,” Alexander said in a prepared statement.
Corker said he met with the nominees last week and is concerned about their fiscal expertise.
“The critical issue for me as I continue to evaluate their backgrounds is whether they have appropriate experience to help guide an $11 billion entity like TVA, which is one of the largest utilities in the U.S.,” he said.
Last month, TVA’s board chose former Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson to lead the utility, which provides electricity to 9 million people in Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. Johnson succeeds Tom Kilgore, who is retiring after six years as TVA’s president and its first CEO.
The utility’s chief operating officer, Bill McCollum, retired in June and was not immediately replaced.
TVA, which receives no taxpayer money and makes no profits, also provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system and assists utilities and state and local governments with economic development.