Lisa Friedman, writing at the New York Times, has an article today about the Tennessee Valley Authority’s decision to invest in more fossil fuel generation, putting the company at odds with President Biden’s general climate change commitments. Overall, the article is fine, but it leaves readers with an incorrect impression of what kind of power Biden has over the TVA.
From the article:
It marks the second time in recent months that a federal entity has clashed with Mr. Biden’s climate agenda. The United States Postal Service is replacing 165,000 aging mail trucks with mostly gasoline-powered vehicles, despite the desire of the White House and leading Democrats to convert the fleet to all-electric vehicles.
It raises the question of whether President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grand 20th-century experiment with electrification can adapt to a 21st-century climate crisis that requires a radical rethinking of energy production.
Like the Postal Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority is an independent organization governed by a board of directors made up of presidential appointees. And in both cases, the board is dominated by members nominated by former President Donald J. Trump, who frequently mocked climate science and was an ally of the fossil fuel industry.
The TVA is governed by a nine-member board of directors, which is responsible for, among other things, the appointment of the TVA CEO (currently Jeff Lyash). Although it is true that the board is currently dominated by Trump nominees, these board members can be removed and replaced by the president.
Less than two years ago, Trump removed two TVA board members after the company announced that it was going to offshore some of its IT jobs. The TVA reversed course just three days later.
Friedman frames the problem as a Trump-dominated independent organization clashing with Biden who has no control over the company. But this is completely wrong. Biden can control the TVA if he wants to. If he doesn’t like the TVA’s decision to invest in more fossil fuel generation, then he can remove and replace board members until they reverse course.
The power the president has over the TVA is one of the reasons why using the TVA for decarbonization goals is such a good idea. We published a paper on this topic in 2019 and Bernie Sanders adopted the idea in his 2020 presidential platform.