This blog is written by Lindsay Pace, Regional Organizer in Tennessee working on the Renew TN campaign. The current state of affairs in Tennessee is #NotPublicPower.Guest Blog | May 3, 2019
What happens when you have a federal public utility that has increasingly cut and blocked the public from its decision making processes?
Well, if you’re the 111th Tennessee General Assembly, you take matters into your own hands and pass a bipartisan resolution expressing support for the enactment of legislation that would require all board committee meetings of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to be open to the public, and if you’re Governor Bill Lee, you sign it.
Republican Senator Ken Yager introduced SJR 192 in the Senate, where it passed unanimously with 30 votes, and Republican Representative Dennis Powers co-sponsored the resolution in the House, where it passed 93 votes to none, with 1 abstention. Governor Lee signed it on April 30th.
In other words, virtually every Tennessee State Legislator and Governor Lee are in agreement that TVA should be conducting its business in the public’s eye.
TVA’s lack of transparency isn’t just a concern for our Legislators in the State House –– recently Congressman Tim Burchett introduced the Tennessee Valley Transparency Act of 2019, which is the legislation SJR 192 refers to that would require TVA’s board committee meetings to be open to the public and transparent.
This comes at a pivotal moment in TVA’s history, a moment that is marked by increasing concern over the lack of public input and transparency.
Currently, there are very few opportunities for the public to engage with TVA and what little interaction the public had has severely diminished with the change in structure to the board meetings. Last fall, TVA made the decision to split the public listening session from the board meetings, with the listening session now being held the day prior to the board meeting and not live streamed online like the rest of the board meeting.
Both the listening session and board meeting are held during typical workday hours, which has resulted in forcing many of those who want to attend to choose between the two, since taking consecutive days off work is not feasible for the majority of working people.
Additionally, TVA board meetings are highly scripted, with the public delivering comments to a mute board. Vital decisions, such as the Grid Access Charge, are being made with very little public participation because the real discussion between board members is happening behind closed doors in committee meetings.
The Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 2019, as well as SJR 192, underscore the crucial need for both board committee and subcommittee meetings to be open to the public, with adequate advance notice, and that both minutes and summaries should be made available online.
We are thankful for the leadership of our Legislators and Governor Lee, as they call for true transparency and public participation in how TVA conducts its business. It is our hope that TVA responds in a manner that both acknowledges and takes real steps towards the important changes that must be made.
TVA should heed the urgent call from decision makers and customers across Tennessee. It’s time for TVA to put the public back in public power.