Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on “Senate Democrats Need to Stop Blocking TVA Nominees”

Posted on May 4, 2008

We Tennesseans like our sports teams, whether it is the Lady Vols, the Memphis Tigers or Bruce Pearl's team from Knoxville. But John Calipari, Pat Summitt or Bruce Pearl wouldn’t think of sending any of our teams into a big game with two players locked up somewhere – two players missing. That’s exactly what the Democratic Leader of the Senate has done for 8.7 million Americans who live in the seven-state region of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Our big game is gas prices, electric prices, climate change, clean air, national security, and Senator Harry Reid has refused to bring the nominations of Susan Williams and Bishop Graves to the Senate floor, effectively locking up two of our biggest players. Every Senator is talking about that; some blaming, some with solutions. I am going to Oak Ridge on May 9 to propose a new Manhattan Project to deal with clean energy independence. But our secret weapon in our region of the country is the Tennessee Valley Authority. That is how we get our clean air so we’re in compliance with clean air laws and new jobs can come in. It is how we deal with climate change. It is how we deal with large amounts of electricity at a low cost. That has to do with jobs and it has to do with gas prices as well. Nissan, Toyota, and General Motors all are about to sell us plug-in hybrids that could, by some estimates, reduce the amount of gasoline we use by up to 40 percent. That would deal with gas prices. But who will supply electricity for the plug-in hybrids? The Tennessee Valley Authority. So what happens? The Democratic Leader locks up two of our best players and won’t let them play in the biggest game we’ve got. If he did that to two of our Memphis basketball players, or UT Lady Vols, or two of Bruce Pearl's players, there would be a revolt in Tennessee, and I hope there is a revolt about this. Here is what has happened: In 2004, after several years of debate, we created a new board for TVA, the nation's largest public utility -- the Tennessee Valley Authority. The President appointed nine members. They were unanimously approved. Two had short terms; they served with distinction and the President nominated them for reappointment. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works unanimously approved them and sent their nominations to the full Senate for its consideration. Both nominees are ready for approval and ready to go to work. But the Democratic Leader has sent me a letter that basically says he will not allow them to be confirmed because they’re Republicans. That astounds me. The Democratic Leader’s decision to block these nominees because of their party affiliation overturns 75 years of Federal law and custom. Since 1933, Federal law has never made politics one of the considerations for TVA appointments. Most Presidents have appointed members of their own party, sometimes political independents – such as Bishop Graves, one of the two nominees for reappointment who is being locked up. Bishop Graves is not even a Republican. He is the most experienced member of the TVA board, coming from the largest customer – Memphis Light, Gas and Water – and he is the presiding bishop of one of the largest religious denominations in America. I have sent a letter to the Democratic leader. It says: This is an insult to Memphis. Bishop Graves is the first Memphian ever to serve on the TVA board in its history. It is an affront to the more than 1.5 million African Americans in the TVA region. Bishop Graves is first African American ever to be on the TVA board. At a time when there is a stream of Democratic Senators coming to the Senate floor trying to find somebody to blame for high gas prices, why is the Democratic Leader locking up two of the most valuable players on our team whose job it is to deal with high gas prices, high electric prices, climate change, clean air, and national security? I respectfully suggest that the Democratic Leader, for whom I have the greatest respect, lift this roadblock – stop trying to change 75 years of law and custom. Unlock our two players and let them out and let them into the game against high gas prices and let them go to work. This is disheartening playpen partisan politics – it disappoints the American people and causes them to cry out for changing the way that we do business in Washington. The Senate needs to work together in a bipartisan way and confirm these two nominees so that they can go back to work and we can continue to make progress toward clean energy independence.