SELC pushes back against TVA effort to expand closed-door decision-making

SELC, Sierra Club, and more than a dozen conservation groups submitted comments yesterday on proposed alterations to Tennessee Valley Authority’s procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The federal utility wants to dramatically modify the way it considers environmental impacts when making decisions about providing public power and managing public lands. These changes limit the public’s involvement and allow more closed-door decisions around issues that affect clean water, public lands, electricity rates, and citizens’ private property. Changes to TVA’s NEPA procedures would put 239,000 acres of public land and 11,000 miles of shoreline throughout the agency’s seven-state territory at risk of detrimental environmental effects and raise public health concerns for 9 million residents of the Tennessee Valley.

Examples of past TVA actions taken without public input under NEPA include:

  • Drilling into drinking water supplies without considering nearby toxic-laden groundwater, putting public’s safety at risk;
  • Extensive tree removal on public and private property without investigating potential impacts on water quality, endangered species, or wildlife;
  • Purchasing a fossil fuel-fired power plant;
  • Charging ratepayers more money for using less electricity.

Rather than improving the transparency one would expect from a government organization, TVA’s proposal threatens to give the utility free reign to make these types of decisions behind closed doors in the future.

The purpose of NEPA is to ensure that a federal agency like TVA makes informed decisions by requiring the agency to consider the potential effects of its activities on the natural world. The act also ensures that agencies seek input from communities on its activities and their impacts.

TVA’s proposal also would exclude 50 broad categories of activities from NEPA review. These exclusions would allow the utility to undertake nearly all of its activities without considering the environmental effects of its actions or notifying or involving the people who may be directly affected by the agency’s plans.

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