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‘Laughable’ hypocrisy in debate about TVA



President Barack Obama has a good idea.

That’s a sentence that has never been written on this (Chattanooga Free Press) editorial page and, barring miraculous circumstances, will not again.

Obama has endorsed one of the most free market policy stances in recent memory. In fact, his idea is so rooted in limited government that the Right’s beloved freedom fighter, Barry Goldwater, was the first to propose it.

Obama’s grand plan? Privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority. …

TVA succeeded in its underlying goal of bringing electricity to poor rural areas in the South, while improving farming practices and eliminating malaria. Now electricity is cheap and easily available and malaria is, thankfully, a distant memory in our region.

There is also little doubt that, given TVA’s crippling debt load, the possibility of a sizable profit from privatization and the agency’s ability to avoid paying taxes, the divestiture of TVA would certainly “help put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.” …

The advantages of selling off the federal government’s energy company are numerous, including:

• Safety and accountability — TVA is exempt from nearly 140 federal laws, such as workplace safety and hydroelectric licensing. Private electric companies are required to follow much more stringent regulations, some of which may have prevented the 2008 spill of a billion gallons of wet coal ash that that polluted 300 acres around Kingston, Tenn.

• Environmental benefits — TVA’s artificially low power rates cause overconsumption and stall the pursuit of inventive energy solutions. …

• Increased tax revenues — While the feds stopped giving TVA direct taxpayerfunded handouts to help bankroll its operations in the late-1990s, the agency still receives significant subsidies. That’s because TVA pays no taxes, only small payments in lieu of taxes. The federal, state and local taxes that private businesses pay don’t apply to TVA.

• Remove taxpayer liabilities — Currently, TVA’s debt is nearly $25 billion. With only $60 million in net income off of $11.2 billion in revenues, the agency is barely breaking even and is incapable of paying down its debt. Add to that the fact that billions are needed to modernize power plants and improve infrastructure and TVA will likely soon need to exceed its debt cap of $30 billion. TVA’s finances aren’t viable in the long term and when the bills come due, American taxpayers may be on the hook.

The downsides of privatizing the TVA are much harder to find. The only real argument for keeping the TVA’s assets in government hands are weak arguments like, “people like the TVA how it is” and “that’s how we’ve always done it.” Sadly, that stale mindset has overtaken area Republican lawmakers who claim to oppose government control and socialist programs. …

Judging by the mindset of our Republican senators and congressmen, a huge government-owned energy authority is socialist if it’s in someone else’s district, but it’s a proper function of government if we benefit from it here at home. The hypocrisy is laughable. …

— Chattanooga (Tenn.) Free Press



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