Senate Dems block Bush/GOP insider nominees for TVA board

(Ed. note: this is cross-posted from my KnoxViews blog because it should be getting wider coverage)

In huge news that is not getting any coverage, Senate Democrats have taken a stand against White House cronyism and one-party GOP government.

A while back, Sen. Bill Frist ushered through legislation to expand the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors and appoint a first-ever CEO to oversee operations. The intent was to run the giant federal utility more like a business and less like a government within a government with no elected officials.

The problem is that all six new Bush nominees are unqualified GOP insiders with little or no utility experience. And the current chairman, Bill Baxter, who was recently appointed to that post by Bush, is already a generous Bush/GOP supporter.

But the fact that they aren't qualified isn't what got the Senate Dem's panties in a bunch. This Knoxville News Sentinel exclusive article (registration required) explains:

Senate Democrats Friday blocked approval of six nominees to the Tennessee Valley Authority's board of directors and said President Bush and Senate Republicans are "trying to stack" the nine-member board just with Republicans.

The six were denied a final Senate vote under an open-ended procedural move that could extend beyond the current recess and well past the Senate's next series of votes starting Feb. 28.

"All we're asking for is a guarantee of one Democratic nominee, and to date they have been unwilling to provide those assurances," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

It's not a filibuster of a Bush Supreme Court Nominee, but it's pretty huge, and a nice battle for Senate Dems to pick.


TVA is one of the nation's largest electric utilities. It is a quasi-federal agency that operates in seven Southern states. It serves more than 8 million people and generates approx. $7 billion in revenues. It operates a system of hydroelectric dams, nuclear power plants, and fossil fuel facilities including 11 coal-fired power plants. Their operations have a significant impact on the diverse economy of the Tennessee Valley and surrounding states.

They are a huge consumer of coal and natural gas. They are also one of the worst polluters in the South. Their coal-fired power plants are some of the dirtiest in the nation, and they have a long history fighting EPA regulation of coal fired power plant emissions.

Earlier in the nomination process, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) threatened to hold up the nominations if Bush didn't nominate somebody from Georgia, where TVA operates. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Isakson introduced a bill that would require representation from each of the seven states in TVA's service area. This bill quietly went away and the nominations proceeded. Maybe they got called on Sen. Dr. Frist's carpet.

This week, noting that there were no minority nominees (hey, we already mentioned they are all GOP insiders, right?) a Knoxville News Sentinel editorial (registration required) called for a minority appointment. That didn't go anywhere, either.

So, the six nominees sailed through committee, and Dr. Sen. Frist virtually guaranteed confirmation in the full Senate. With this most recent setback, now Sen. Dr. Frist is complaining about "obstruction" and the usually reasonable Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a longtime defender of the environment, accused Senate Dems of "playing politics."

I don't know where the Senate Dems finally found their backbone, or why they picked this particular battle. Maybe they are testing the waters off the national media radar. Whatever the reason, it's a far more important battle than the coverage it's getting would suggest.

If nothing else, the TVA board's policies and decisions have an enormous impact on the environment and affect the health and welfare of millions of people. It only seems reasonable for the board to have more diverse, experienced, and open-minded (and yes, bi-partisan) representation. That's not "playing politics". It's just common sense, and the right thing to do.

OK, then.

(P.S. Lest anyone think I'm delusional, I realize the nominations will go through once trading resumes. But it was a nice gesture.)