TVA: Same Old Menace?
To the editors of the Crimson:
In her Crimson editorial piece of February 10, "Power For the People," Celia Dugger contends that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the federal utility that supplies energy to much of the southeastern United States, is becoming progressive. Dugger points out that the TVA has started to encourage the development of alternative energy sources, such as a small-scale solar and wood heating systems, and that this shift toward thinking small has been encouraged by the Carter Administration. But Dugger fails to tell the full story. The bulk of the TVA budget continues to go to large scale, ecologically destructive energy development, more so, unfortunately, under the Carter administration than ever before.
TVA's primary customers remain, not modest experimenters with alternative energy sources, but 49 industrial giants based in the Southeast, including Union Carbide, Alcoa, and Reynolds Aluminium. Under special arrangements, these industrial consumers receive electricity from TVA at discount rates, while small consumers pay full rates. This means that the small consumers effectively subsidize the energy consumption the industrial giants, which in the case of Union Carbide, for example, goes toward operating uranium enrichment plants that seriously threaten local environments.
Dugger points out in her piece that TVA has improved its environmental record, citing its commitment to land reclamation. But the overall record is still abominable. TVA remains the single largest consumer in the U.S. of strip-mined coal, which it uses to feed its 12 fossil fuel power plants. These plants contaminate the air and water at a rate that places TVA, according to the Council on Economic Priorities, at the top of the 15 largest American utilities in air and water pollution. In 1975, TVA received an order to comply with the Clean Air Act, but the company appealed the decisions, saying "if we lose the case there, we'II try to get the law changed. We don't give up easily."
Meanwhile, the effect on the Carter administration of the TVA has been more disturbing than encouraging. As part of the Carter administration energy program, the Department of Energy has encouraged expanded development of both coal and nuclear power facilities. TVA has responded thus far by operating one nuclear plant, the Browns Ferry Reactor. The safety record so far is not good. In 1975, the Browns Ferry Reactor was the site of a major fire, causing $10 million worth of damage. In March 1978, the plant's emergency cooling system failed to pass safety tests. With the encouragement of Carter's energy department. TVA now plans to build 17 more reactors, which will in turn depend on supplies of raw uranium to process.
Much of that uranium is to come from the Navajo Nation, where TVA is now beginning a joint project with United Nuclear Corporation and Mobil Oil Company. The project is slated for the eastern region of the Navajo Nation, and faces stiff opposition, for understandable reasons. The company promises that the activity will bring a boom-town economy to the area. But the extraction of the highly radioactive uranium promises the release of low radiation from the ground. TVA's uranium mines will be in operation only 20 to 30 years, while the radiation will stay in the local environment for much longer. In January of this year, 92 Navahos filed a suit...
So if the TVA has now begun to fund "alternative energy systems," it can only be concluded that they are mere token efforts. They do not make TVA's overall record any less troubling. In this case, "Power to the People" is being generated at too high a price. Winona La Duke Westigard '80
Celia Dugger replies
Ms. Westigard rightly points out that TVA still depends on coal and nuclear power for most of its energy. However, while I did not intend to imply that the TVA had ceased to rely on environmentally unsound sources of energy, I do stand by my contention that the new directors appointed by President Carter, David Freeman and Richard Freeman, are attempting to restore to the TVA some of its more people-oriented goals, along the lines of the land reclamation projects of the 1930s. (I did not contend in the article that the TVA had evidenced any commitment to the land in recent year).
Ms. Westigard states incorrectly, I believe, that TVA is planning 17 new nuclear power plants. There are six currently under construction, but Dawn Ford, chief of the citizen's action office, noted yesterday that they were all begun before either of the Carter appointments were made. There are no additional plants planned. David Freeman, who has labeled the plan for a nuclear breeder reactor a "turkey," has also called for a reassessment of TVA's reliance on nuclear power.