Locals Remain Unsatisfied With TVA’s Ground-Zero Recovery, Restitution Efforts

Residents along Swan Pond Road near Harriman still feel the Tennessee Valley Authority has failed to regain their trust, even as TVA officials claim building goodwill with the ground-zero community is a top disaster-recovery effort priority.

Swan Pond is the closest community to the Kingston waste-containment dike failure that released approximately 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory River, and buried more than 300 acres of lake and shoreline on Dec. 22, 2008.

Local activist Randy Ellis, vice chairman of the Roane County Community Advisory Group, said TVA has yet to take the necessary steps to repair strained relations with area citizens.

“I don’t think they have listened to the community,” Ellis said this week. Most of the work the TVA has completed in the area is at best merely cosmetic, he said, and doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny.

“They’re doing what they’ve got to do to cover their tracks,” said Ellis.

Most members of the Swan Pond community have been lifelong residents. And they certainly didn’t ask to be placed in the middle of the largest industrial spill in American history, said Ellis.

“TVA, through negligence, thrust them into this,” Ellis said.

He added that politicians and government officials tend to like boasting about the $43 million that’s made it’s way to Roane County in the wake of the spill. But none of that money has gone to the Swan Pond community, maintains Ellis — and many there lack basic services like sewer and nearby fire protection.

“No steps have been taken to make the community first affected (by the disaster) happy and whole,” said Ellis.

TVA’s Kingston recovery site general manager, Steve McCracken, says rebuilding trust with the community was among the the top priorities of TVA a year ago, and it still is.

“I can tell you there is no end to (rebuilding trust and communication with the community) any time soon that I see, nor do we want there to be,” McCracken said at a joint Tennessee House and Senate Enviroment Committee hearing to discuss the progress at the site on Tuesday. “We all know this was a catastrophic event. There’s great deal of anger and anxiety in the community. It’s our responsibility to get out there and meet people face to face.”

TVA is meeting with local community members and officials, and communicating through email to try to better understand issues of concern facing the community members, and ultimately fix problems, McCracken said.

“Critical to everything is making extensive efforts to reach out to neighbors, recognize their concerns, try to minimize the inevitable inconvenience,” McCracken said. “It’s significant along Swan Pond Road and Swan Pond Circle Road.”

Of the inconveniences area residents must endure are increased and heavy traffic due to the increase of workers, and heavy truck traffic to and from the site, Ellis said.

Asked by a lawmaker during the hearing what was being done to alleviate the railroad crossing delays — which force residents “to wait at a train crossing up to 15 times a day for 15 minutes at a time,” according to Ellis — McCracken said, “We are modifying our rail system at the site as we speak.”

He promised that by the first week of March changes will be made that ensure rail traffic “won’t be impacting that intersection any more.”

“I can tell you that it is irritating,” McCracken acknowledged. “It’s irritating to me.”

Rep. Dennis Ferguson, D-Midtown, encouraged TVA to be a better neighbor to the Swan Pond community, and to see how the residents can be helped.

“That community is the next door neighbor to TVA, and I hope they will go over there and see if there’s something they can do to make those people feel like they’re being taken care of,” he said.

Consumers Still Volunteering to Spend on TN Getaways

Tennessee tourism is something of a bright spot amidst a lot of other gray economic news, the state’s tourism commissioner said this morning.

“It’s been a tough year for everyone, but Tennessee tourism has actually fared very well, especially relative to our competitive states,” Commissioner Susan Whitaker told members of the Senate Environment and Conservation Committee Tuesday.

That’s good news for Tennessee in general, as tourism is the state’s biggest non-farm industry sector.

For the first two quarters of 2009, the most recent estimates available, Tennessee tourism-industry business in total took about a 3 percent dip from 2008, said Whitaker. However, “leisure travel” increased 4 percent, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Goods and services providers that depend on Tennessee tourism include food service, entertainment and recreation, lodging, retail sales, public transportation, auto rentals and travel planners.

The Travel Association numbers, released last summer, show tourism in Tennessee generated nearly $14.4 billion, a 1.5 percent increase from 2007 to 2008. Payroll income, however, was down 1.4 percent from 2007.

In the Southeastern United States, generally one of the strongest regions for tourism in the country, some states have seen double digit decline in the past couple years, Whitaker said.

Tennessee’s strong performance in the travel and tourism market was mainly driven by domestic travel, which has shown consistent growth over the past few years, according to the Travel Association report.

Nationally, Tennessee ranks now in the top 10 as a vacation destination state, said Whitaker, Tennessee’s Department of Tourist Development director since 2003.

Whitaker indicated she’s optimistic about tourism in Tennessee going forward. “We have such a wonderful, varied product,” she said. The state’s convenient geographical location and diversity of attractions has helped it weather the economic storm, and will likely continue to do so, she said.

“Where some of the state got hit very hard with business travel declines and convention contraction, there were other parts of the state that had their best years in 2008, and even last year,” she said. For example, businesses that promote and cater to river recreation have been doing particularly well, she said.

The agency’s strategy is to “to create programs and infrastructure for (local businesses and tourism promoters) to plug into and give them a leg up on our competitive states.”

“That’s been very effective,” she said, crediting her agency’s efforts for helping Tennessee move into the U.S. tourism Top 10. “At one point we were were 14th, and then 12th and now were are 8th or 10th, depending on the measure you look at,” she said.

The key challenge for the agency in the future is developing “programs that are going to benefit everybody,” she said.

Whitaker said the department’s promotional spot with Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley “went literally around the world.

“We had over 400 TV clips and 260 articles written in six-weeks time, which vaulted our website to the Top 10, which was actually ahead of Florida’s and California’s websites,” she said.

During Gov. Phil Bredesen’s budget hearings in November Whitaker proposed the state spend about $7.6 million on the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development in the coming fiscal year.

“That reflects approximately a $4.9 million reduction in non-recurring funds,” she told Bredesen at the time. “Most of that reduction will occur in the marketing department. That’s where we have the discretionary funds — and we have been able to determine that probably will be eliminating pretty much the TV and print (advertising and PR efforts).”

But the website will remain “fresh and updated” under that fiscal formula, she said.

The department’s newest online promotional effort is called, “That’s My Tennessee Story, What’s Yours.” She said it has “gained the support of people who absolutely love being here,” like country star Kieth Urban and others who are recording spots essentially “for nothing.”

Whitaker said that while it is true visitors to Tennessee do tend to gravitate to the larger metro areas to start, once they get here, “They start finding out about other things they want to do.”

“People don’t just come for a couple days in the big city here,” said Whitaker. “They like to get out on the backroads.”

She said the state’s “Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways” program — “a statewide initiative encompassing all 95 counties along 15 regional trails, and featuring Tennessee’s five National Scenic Byways and highlighting more than 70 significant tourism sites” — will help visitors get out and spend their money in rural Tennessee.

Mark Todd Engler can be reached at markengler@tnreport.com.

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Bill Blizzard Ongoing Until Thursday

With the special session on education all but wrapped up, an avalanche of bills are awaiting consideration in legislative committees.

Since Jan. 12 lawmakers have mostly been focused on education. This week 28 committee meetings are scheduled at the Capitol to take up a range of issues. Roughly 75 bills now sit in committees to which they’ve been assigned, though not all will be heard this week.

More than 2,000 bills are currently alive. More than 400 have been introduced since the beginning of 2010 — and the floodgates are open until the Thursday deadline to file new bills.

Normally the deadline is slated for the tenth legislative day or the second Thursday of regular session, whichever leadership decides, according to the Senate Clerk’s Office. But when special session pushed the regular session back, the House and Senate leadership set the deadline for Jan. 28.

This week, the bustling committee schedule includes several presentations from state departments:

  • The House Commerce Committee will hear a department update from Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Leslie Newman.
  • Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens will give the House Ag Committee an orientation-like review of the department programs, services and budget proposal presented to Gov. Phil Bredesen last fall.
  • Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee will listen to a presentation on alternative energy from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and another outlining new initiatives within state tourism from Tourist Development Commissioner Susan Whitaker.
  • The Consumer and Employee Affairs committee will hear a presentation on the Unemployment Trust Fund from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
  • The State Collaborative on Reforming Education will give a presentation to the House Education Committee

they are free to vet other bills ranging from making it a “deceptive act” for a company to ask for a person’s social security number to changing the way the state counts multiple DUI offenses.

Ramsey Wants New Guns-in-Restaurants Legislation

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said last week that he supports moving legislation this session to clarify a Tennessee gun law that was struck down by a Nashville judge last fall.

Both Ramsey, R-Blountville, and last year’s guns-in-restaurants chief bill-sponsor — Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson — want to alter the existing law to fix any ambiguities that led to the judge’s ruling, rather than waiting for the case to run its course through appeals courts.

“If we wait on the courts, it could be months, if not a year, so I think we need to move forward with it,” Ramsey said Friday. He added that he also supports “stiffening penalties for people who carry guns into places where they are not allowed.”

Enacted last year over the veto of Gov. Phil Bredesen, Tennessee’s guns-in-restaurants law allows firearm-carry permit-holders to posses their weapons in alcohol-serving eating establishments that meet certain caveats. In particular, the law declares that for customers to legally pack heat in an establishment, it must derive more than 50 percent of its income from food, rather than the sale of booze.

However, Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman declared in November that the law is “fraught with ambiguity.” Calculating an establishment’s food-versus-liquor sales breakdown isn’t something citizens could reasonably be expected to determine for themselves, said Bonnyman.

Before the 2009 General Assembly made it legally permissible for non-drinking, permit-holding patrons to carry firearms, state law unequivocally banned pistol packing anywhere beer and cocktails were served.

Ramsey’s inclination to move a rewritten guns-in-restaurants bill contrasts with that stated recently by House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton.

Williams was reported last week to have indicated his preference to “see (the case) just go through the courts first,” and that he didn’t want to “spend a lot of time in session dealing with an issue and then it turns out we didn’t need to do it.”

Both Ramsey and Jackson dismissed claims by Nashville and Memphis tourism promoters that the guns-in-restaurant law is scaring off would-be visitors to Tennessee.

“Nobody has seen any ill effects from this,” Jackson said. “Just like nobody saw any ill effects in Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia or any of the 38 other states that allow gun-owners with permits to carry where alcohol is served. Florida has had their law in effect for more than 20 years, and I don’t think it has done great harm to their tourism.”

Added Ramsey, “I’d like to see those numbers to show that it’s hurting tourism. I think (the claims) are mostly just hypothetical.”

Still Sifting Through the Ash

On this morning last year, residents along Swan Pond Road and the Emory and Clinch Rivers in Roane County, Tennessee, stepped from the year’s longest night’s darkness into the dawning aftermath of ashen, apocalyptic-looking cataclysm.

One county resident later said the mammoth scale and magnitude of the phenomenon was better described as a “geological event” than a mere “spill,” or as TVA’s public relations department toyed around with calling the largest inadvertent coal-ash dump in U.S. history, a “sudden, accidental release” of a “large amount of material.”

Just after midnight Dec. 22, 2008, a Tennessee Valley Authority-owned coal-ash waste containment dike was transformed by precipitation into a billion-gallon rolling, roiling, rain-saturated tsunami of ooze and goop.

The frigid molten mass slid across the Emory River and its Swan Pond wetlands toward the Emory’s confluence with the Clinch River, enveloping, damaging or destroying everything in its path, including boats, boathouses, docks, roads and railroads, bottomland farm fields and many people’s homes.

That no one died or was seriously injured is even today almost as stunning to comprehend as the event itself. Had the calamity occurred during, say, the bustle of a summer afternoon rather than the dead of December night, the result could have been one of the darkest days in living Tennessee memory.

TVA later reported in it’s “Root Cause Analysis” that a “combination of the high water content of the wet ash, the increasing height of ash [mound-storage], the construction of the sloping dikes over the wet ash, and the existence of an unusual bottom layer of ash and silt were among the long-evolving conditions that caused the ash spill at Kingston Fossil Plant on Dec. 22, 2008.”

For a little perspective on the gargantuan nature of the 5.4 million cubic-yard fury of fly-ash slurry, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy commissioner Paul Sloan told state lawmakers last session, “If you took the Great Smoky Mountains and you subdivided it in one-acre tracts – over half a million acres – the amount that spilled would be sufficient to put about 11 tons of ash on every one of those acres.”

Not surprisingly, a lot of the detritus — a whole lot — is still hanging around the area. The cleanup effort underway is massive, as it has been since just after the event. And the remaining residents nearby who haven’t been bought-out by TVA say they’re weary of the constant confrontation with the unyielding truck and train traffic, the mess, the health worries, the broken dreams and the giant New Deal-era federal corporation that has caused it all. They describe living in a state of constant headache, both figurative and, for some who say they’re suffering physical symptoms as a result of the ever-present ash residue, real.

“The Swan Pond Community prior to Dec. 22, 2008 was a normal but beautiful community, with neighbors that have been neighbors for 50 plus years,” said local resident Randy Ellis, who serves on the Roane County Long Term Recovery Committee and is vice chairman of the county’s Community Advisory Group.

“We had the beauty of the mountains and the river. This time of the year you could drive through our community and see the Christmas lights and the different families gathering at homes to celebrate the holidays,” he said. “Now, as you can see around us, what people are left are surrounded by empty houses bought by the TVA. Our once beautiful and quiet neighborhood was turned upside down.”

Time to Talk About Wine Again

A joint legislative study group is set to uncork another round of discussion Tuesday on changing Tennessee law to allow wine sales in grocery stores.

Leading the committee is Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, who said that just as in the group’s first hearing in late October, he’ll allot mic time to both advocates and opponents of the proposed legislation leftover from last year.

But Ketron, a supporter of the wine-in-grocery-stores bills, said he’s also asked a “neutral party” to corroborate published estimates  — challenged by some who oppose legalizing wine sales outside liquor stores — that as much or more than $17 million dollars in additional state tax revenue could be pressed annually from the private sector if grocery store wine sales were permitted.

For three years now, proponents of bringing Tennessee’s retail wine laws in line with 33 other states have been pushing the issue in the Legislature. For three years they’ve come up empty.

Largely responsible thus far for vanquishing vino drinkers’ visions of greater choice are the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee, who’ve lobbied heavily against allowing supermarkets to compete in the retail wine market.

“The future of 550 independent Tennessee-owned small businesses, and their over 3,000 employees, are being threatened,” Chip Christianson, a Nashville liquor store owner and board member for the TWSRA, told the study group during its last meeting.

“How many lost jobs and lost Tennessee businesses are worth a little more convenience for a very few?” he asked.

Christianson also suggested during the hearing that grocery store employees are not reliably capable of determining if customers seeking to purchase “high-proof alcohol products” are of legal age.

One strategy Ketron and his allies are employing to try and cobble together more political support this time around is to invite some of the traditional foes of grocery store wine sales to belly up to the bargaining table.

Retail liquor store owners tend to labor under some pretty onerous restrictions themselves, said Ketron, so it’s probably time to consider reforming a whole range of the state’s three-quarters-of-a-century-old booze-business laws.

Today’s hearing will include discussions about problematic regulatory issues that hinder them as well, he said.

For example, state laws prohibits liquor stores from selling products like ice, beer and non-alcoholic drink mixers and proprietors are banned from owning more than one outlet. Ketron, who also chairs the Senate State and Local Government Committee, said he’d like to see those rules relaxed, too.

Basically, Tennessee’s business regulations that govern the sale of alcohol are antiquated and in need of updating across the board, he said.

“Many of (the laws) go back to the early 1930s, around the time Prohibition was repealed,” said Ketron. “They’ve become convoluted…and it’s basically led to the jumbled mess that we have today.”

The hearing starts this afternoon at 1:30 (agenda-pdf). Watch it online here.

‘Guns-in-Bars’ Law Shot Down – For Now

A judge in Nashville on Friday triggered renewed debate over a controversial issue that fired up a range of competing interests during the 2009 Tennessee legislative session.

Davidson County Trial Court Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman declared on Friday that a recent change in law to allow non-drinking patrons to carry firearms in bars is so “fraught with ambiguity” as to be essentially indecipherable, and therefore unconstitutional.

Her legal finding likely reloads the topic to become a political flashpoint again in 2010.

Opponents of the law hailed Bonnyman’s ruling as “common sense.” Supporters promised to “reword the law” to ensure that it passes future legal muster.

Enacted over the veto of Gov. Phil Bredesen, the law allows permit-holding firearm carriers to posses their weapons in alcohol-serving eating establishments that meet certain caveats. In particular, the law declares that an establishment must derive more than 50 percent of its income from food, rather than the sale of booze, for customers to legally pack heat.

However, to the judge’s way of looking at the suit, which was filed by a group of restaurant and bar owners, calculating an establishment’s food-versus-liquor sales breakdown isn’t something citizens could reasonably be expected to determine for themselves.

Committee Questions Need for Sex-Offender Oversight Board

NASHVILLE – A state panel that develops standards and guidelines for monitoring and treating sex offenders after they’re released from prison is in limbo due to spotty board member attendance at regular meetings.

Lawmakers discussing whether or not to advise the full Legislature that the Tennessee Sex Offender Treatment Board should continue to function chose to offer “no recommendation” this week after the board failed to produce members’ attendance records for the last two years as requested by a recent Division of State Audit performance inquiry.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a member of the Joint Government Operations committee, also called it “disturbing” that members known to be repeatedly absent from the treatment board’s meetings typically never sent proxies to sit, observe or act in their place.

At a subcommittee hearing Oct. 21, the Memphis Democrat said he wonders if the absences reflect a fading need to keep the board running.

Hardaway added that he wouldn’t support the board’s continued existence until it had at least complied with the request by auditors to examine board-meeting attendance records.

“I don’t see how we can evaluate this…we don’t even know if the board members are showing up,” said Hardaway.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, who chaired the hearing, warned that “failure to respond to questions appropriately” by members of boards, commissions and departments called before Joint Government Operations subcommittees for performance reviews will result in a “no recommendation” finding. A “no recommendation” subcommittee stamp means that a board or agency will have to convince the full Government Operations committee of its legitimate necessity during the 2010 legislative session, or face sunset termination.

Created in 1995, the board is charged with establishing best-practices for how sex offenders should be treated after they’re released to ensure public safety. The board designs treatment programs, trains treatment providers and assesses the likelihood of recidivism.

Board member Dr. J. Michael Adler, a licensed psychological examiner, says the board’s goal is to change behaviors among sex offenders by setting guidelines and offering training to treatment providers.

Adler was nominated to chair the board after Dr. Jeanine Miller, former director for the Department of Corrections’ mental health division, left the post after taking a job with TennCare.

Adler says less than 15 percent of sex offenders are rearrested after undergoing treatment programs. Sex offenders who haven’t undergone treatment programs have a 30 percent chance of being arrested again for similar acts, he said.

Still Draining the Nation

Earlier this year Reason magazine offered up a much dimmer view of the Tennessee Valley Authority than that no doubt favored by the federally owned corporation’s 50-member public relations staff.

In “How Big Government Infrastructure Projects Go Wrong,” the libertarian Cato Institute’s Jim Powell cast “America’s biggest monopoly” in a light that by no means revealed it to be the economic savior and cultural redeemer of its much-publicized promise.

It was heralded as a program to build dams that would control floods, facilitate navigation, lift people out of poverty, and help America recover from the Great Depression. Yet the reality is that the TVA probably flooded more land than it protected; much of the navigation it has facilitated involves barges of coal for coal-fired power plants; people receiving TVA-subsidized electricity have increasingly lagged behind neighbors who did not; and the TVA’s impact on the Great Depression was negligible. The TVA morphed into America’s biggest monopoly, dominating an 80,000 square mile region with 8.8 million people—for all practical purposes, it is a bureaucratic kingdom subject to neither public nor private controls.

Powell’s sentiments are reflective of what seems to be a growing consensus among critics of various ideological stripes who agree on little except that the time has come for the Tennessee Valley Authority to be gone.

Today, TVA, although no longer a beneficiary of direct congressional funding, “pays none of the federal, state, and local taxes that private businesses pay,” Powell said in his article.

“As a government-backed entity similar to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the TVA can borrow money cheaper than private businesses,” said Powell. “Currently, the TVA has about $26 billion of debt.”

In a January 2009 op-ed for a local newspaper, Shaka Mitchell, at the time vice president for the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, observed that the hospitable, appreciative manner in which TVA and its leadership seems always to get handled by state and federal authorities (citizen lawsuits are applying the real heat) is typically (and tragically) symptomatic of government ownership or operation of just about anything.

When a private company screws up, someone is held accountable. People stop buying its products. Shareholders fire the CEO. The company goes bankrupt. But when a government-run company has a similar problem, no one takes the blame.

Officials at TVA don’t have to answer to shareholders or voters. Government run companies, like the TVA, are interested in one thing; maintaining their own existence. As long as they keep their jobs, they couldn’t care less about the quality – or dangers – of their product.

We are learning an important lesson about the differences between what happens when a private company and a public one impact the community negatively. Exxon had to pay over half a billion dollars to fix the mess it caused, and rightfully so. Troublingly, taxpayers will be forced to pay to clean up the TVA’s debacle.

A 2001 paper (highlighted in Powell’s Reason article) from the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a “non-partisan research organization dedicated to economic vitality, environmental quality, and regional equity,” assessed TVA in terms just as damning.

“Sixty-five years after it was created, this giant federal agency can no longer justify its existence,” wrote Richard Munson, now the senior vice president of Recycled Energy Development, in “Restructure TVA: Why the Tennessee Valley Authority Must Be Reformed.”

“Why should 242 million Americans be forced to subsidize the electricity rates of the 3 percent of Americans who happen to live in the Tennessee Valley,” asked Munson, who also testified before Congress on the subject of TVA in 1999. “There’s little doubt that TVA has become a burden to the nation’s taxpayers. What’s becoming increasingly apparent is that the status quo also harms the very Tennessee Valley residents that TVA is supposed to serve.”

Last winter a prominent longtime critic of the Tennessee Valley Authority called on President Obama to embark upon perhaps the most counterintuitive political undertaking an FDR-idolizing stimulator-in-chief could conceive of.

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor back in February, environmental activist William U. Chandler, a graduate of Harvard and the University of Tennessee, offered that if President Obama really wanted to throw his GOP detractors for a real mindbender, he’d take an aggressive run at radically reforming – and perhaps even dispensing with – the granddaddy of all New Deal boondoggles.

Obama will have to grapple with the history and the politics of this question as he ponders how to make TVA a force for more-efficient energy use, better jobs, and a low-carbon future. At the least, Obama could put TVA management on notice of his expectations. He could direct his Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency to define steps TVA should take to reform the 75 year-old agency. He could require – and reward – investment in energy efficiency and disincentivize the wasteful use of power. He could require TVA to create the most advanced carbon mitigation measures of any US utility – and then of any utility anywhere in the world. He could inform managers that if by 2011 this plan is not well advanced, they will be replaced, and the agency put up for sale.

Such blasphemies are the sort that once laid low the higher political ambitions of Barry Goldwater, who got himself in Dutch with the Tennessee masses for offhandedly quipping that he’d sell TVA “for a dollar” given half a chance. And speaking of “Dutch,” the plug got summarily pulled on Ronald Reagan’s job as host for General Electric Theater at around the same time, after he expressed similarly contemptuous views of the “big government” powerhouse, which he soon discovered was as “sacred as motherhood” in some quarters.

Of course, all that was long before Dec. 22, 2008, when overnight TVA’s popularity sank to levels rivaling that of a lump of coal in the public’s collective stocking.

For a little perspective on the gargantuan nature of the 5.4 million cubic yards of ash that roared forth from the Kingston Fossil Plant, which as of last summer TVA was estimating would cost up to $1.2 billion to clean up, here’s what Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy commissioner Paul Sloan told state lawmakers during a hearing last session: “If you took the Great Smoky Mountains and you subdivided it in one-acre tracts – over half a million acres – the amount that spilled (at Kingston) would be sufficient to put about 11 tons of ash on every one of those acres. So that’s the scale that we’re dealing with. So, yes, this is a very long-term cleanup.”

But like the others who have for years criticized the massive agency, it’s not just TVA’s darkest-day disaster that ought to cause America to rethink TVA organization, oversight and even ownership, Chandler argued.

The Tennessee Valley Authority — an “icon of the New Deal” that also happens to have “the worst environmental record of any utility in the nation” — in fact never did “live up to its supposed goals,” he said.  In particular, its promises of bestowing collective prosperity on the region’s inhabitants fell demonstrably short: “Both during and after the Great Depression, manufacturing jobs were created faster just outside the TVA area than within it,” he wrote.

Non-TVA counties in northern Georgia and Alabama and western North Carolina in 1933 were as poor as or poorer than TVA counties, but by 1953 they were generally better off. Even rural electrification and the use of household appliances grew faster in the non-TVA south.

To be sure, TVA created jobs for some 13,000 workers, but for at least four decades, Depression-era investments in TVA dams, waterways, and recreation areas have failed to pay for themselves by any economic measure.

In his 1984 book, “The Myth of TVA,” Chandler observed that “(a)mong the nine states of the southeastern United States, there has been essentially an inverse relationship between income per capita and the extent to which the state was served by TVA.” Furthermore, he wrote, “In a critical measure of economic performance, growth and income, no evidence exists to suggest any special contribution by TVA to the development of the Tennessee Valley.”

Chandler concluded his book with words that no doubt reflect sentiments held today by far more ratepayers and taxpayers than when first published 25 years ago: “The fundamental result of the TVA experiment teaches that buying flexibility by giving away democratic control is a false bargain.”