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By ERNEST NORSWORTHY
In the years of writing about the TVA, I have never seen such interest, pro or con, in the possible sale of TVA.
From Bangor to San Francisco to Paris (Tennessee) and London, there are articles written about Obama’s view of selling what once was a sacred Democratic pearl.
TVA, a vestige of FDR’s New Deal, has existed and has been challenged for 80 years.
Defending TVA has cost ratepayers millions in legal defenses; billions in wasted or misspent ratepayer dollars that are down the drain.
It should have been ruled unconstitutional in the 1930s like most of the New Deal programs, but it was sustained by the Supreme Court on a narrow ruling of a contract issue and not on its constitutional merits.
Clearly, TVA should have been ruled unconstitutional back then.
But why is the administration about to dump one of its progressive icons still in the shadow of the revered FDR?
Could it be because TVA has been under such withering criticism for such a long time that it reflects badly on government generally and flies in the face of Obama’s goal of more government control?
Recall only two of TVA’s major mistakes: Kingston and Watts Bar.
It also puts some Republicans in the awkward position of supporting one of their iconically most hated federal agencies.
One of the reasons for a continued interest in TVA is that it is the alter ego of the federal government itself with the extraordinary power to produce something, to set regulations that are enforced by TVA and manned by unelected and ill-qualified appointments of the president.
The result is a federal workforce that is not held accountable to the people.
No one is ever fired from the TVA, regardless of their personal mistakes, and no one is ever held responsible for their errors.
Compare this with industry-wide standards, and the differences are stark.
Much of what TVA is supposed to do can be done by other agencies with more closely related responsibilities to the public and to the states.
For example, the survey of fish in the Tennessee River and its tributaries should be handled by state and federal organizations specifically designed for that purpose.
There are many more examples of TVA’s extra involvement in other than power production.
Since TVA operates as an agency where “one size fits all,” it obviously does not “fit” all seven states in TVA’s 80,000-square-mile territory.
TVA’s bond values have dropped suddenly and drastically since Obama’s budget announcement about the possible sale of TVA assets.
Perhaps the real reason for putting TVA “on the block” so to speak, is that Obama can claim “deficit reduction” (TVA’s $30 billion debt) while not reducing anything and the fact that the government now acknowledges ownership of that debt.
This should come as a great relief to ratepayers, because up until now, they are the one’s held responsible for all of TVA’s debt and expenses.
It really is amazing how much interest there is in the outcome of perhaps TVA’s last chapter in the long and diverse TVA book.
Ernest Norsworthy writes on limited government and is a frequent critic of TVA.