The Tennessee General Assembly is considering a measure declaring its members “strongly support” that Congress mandate the Tennessee Valley Authority to henceforth make all the agency’s governing board and subcommittee meetings open to the public.
The legislation in Washington is called the “Tennessee Valley Authority Transparency Act,” and is sponsored by U.S. Reps. Tim Burchett and Steve Cohen, D-Memphis.
The state Legislature’s resolution is SJR 192 and is sponsored by Ken Yager, R-Kingston. Its is scheduled for a Tennessee Senate floor vote Monday.
Yager’s hometown is where the cataclysmic TVA coal-ash spill in December 2008 buried the surrounding river valley in a billion gallons of gloppy gray waste material. The Kingston Steam Plant disaster is claimed to have resulted in serious, even terminal, health problems for local residents and cleanup workers who came in prolonged contact with the potentially toxic sludge, dust and residues.
Yager’s resolution states “it is vitally important to the citizens of Tennessee that TVA, as an entity created and protected by Congress, should conduct their business in the open and be as transparent as possible.”
“I just think in the spirit of transparency and open government that all of their meetings should be open,” said Yager, a 3-term state senator who prior to entering the Legislature also served stints as attorney and mayor for Roane County.
Under current rules, TVA decides for itself “which meetings it allows the public to attend as well as whether it will provide any minutes or summaries of meetings to the public,” according to the pro-transparency group, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “Despite being a government body created by Congress, and its members confirmed by the U.S. Senate, there is no requirement that deliberations of its full board or subcommittees be open to the public.”
Burchett said expanding the citizenry’s access to public-sector information always has been and remains one of his priorities as a politician.
“Both in the state legislature and as mayor I focused on increasing openness and transparency in government, and this bill continues those efforts at the federal level,” Burchett said in a Jan. 31 press release announcing his filing of the “Tennessee Valley Authority Transparency Act.”
The bill was the first piece of legislation Burchett filed after becoming a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected to Congress last November, winning 67 percent of the vote over Democrat Renee Hoyos, former executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network.
Burchett and Cohen also this winter sent a joint letter to TVA President William D. Johnson “demanding answers about TVA’s announcement that ratepayers might have to pay for the misdeeds of the contractor it used for cleanup work at its Kingston plant following the nation’s worst coal ash spill,” according to a Feb. 8 press release from the Knox County congressman.
“TVA’s congressionally mandated mission is to improve the quality of life in the Valley through the integrated management of the region’s resources,” Reps. Cohen and Burchett said in their letter. “Regrettably, it seems that TVA’s irresponsible actions have achieved the opposite effect — more than 40 workers have died, including at least two TVA employees, and more than 400 are sick.”