TVA Shouldn't Cut Corners on its Natural Resources Plan

TVA is the process of determining its environmental priorities for the coming decades, and they want your input. Last month they published a draft Environmental Impact Statement covering their Natural Resources Plan, and they are accepting public comments through May 18.

In 2008, TVA adopted an environmental policy that placed climate change, carbon sequestration, sustainability, and stewardship on the agency's priority list. The NRP translates these new priorities into specific goals and objectives for the agency's various divisions, covering biological and cultural resources, recreation, reservoir lands, and water resources. The plan outlines management of 293,000 acres, 11,000 miles of shoreline, and 42,000 miles of tributary streams.

To simplify this complex task, TVA identified three levels of commitment: custodial, enhanced, and flagship. "Custodial" represents minimal compliance with law and policy, and "flagship" represents full dedication to managing and expanding programs and resources. "Enhanced" is a middle ground where programs grow, but not as rapidly. This is the preferred alternative in the draft plan, and that will only change if the public demands it.

TVA estimates the costs of these commitment levels at $7-10 million for custodial, $20-24 million for enhanced, and $45-55 million for flagship management. To put that in context, TVA takes in about $11 billion in revenues each year. They currently hold about $22 billion in long-term debt, primarily from cost overruns on constructing nuclear plants, and pay down that debt by about $1.2 billion each year, 10 percent of revenues. Flagship management would cost one-half of 1 percent.

Most of the differences between enhanced and flagship management are a matter of degree: 20 miles of new public trails versus 10; 40,000 acres of invasive plant management versus 20,000; 5,000 acres of archaeological surveys versus 3,000. Notable projects only under flagship management include establishing partnerships with local and regional agencies, better protecting threatened and endangered species, public access to a cemetery database, establishment of a history and archaeology museum, and efforts to make significant reductions in sediment and phosphorous in TVA waters.

You may not realize that there are trails and campgrounds on TVA land, mainly because they are rudimentary and poorly publicized, but under flagship management that would change.

Sensitive lands—caves, wetlands, mussel beds, and riparian ecosystems—would receive "gold standard" care. TVA's natural heritage database would be made state-of-the-art and shared with research institutions and state and federal forest and wildlife managers. Facilities would be upgraded and expanded, and TVA would promote them.

Under flagship management, cultural resources would receive more attention, and TVA would increase interactions with both native tribes and families whose land was taken when TVA was established. Resentment is still strong among these groups, and TVA owes it to everyone whose ancestral land is underwater or has been auctioned off to do all they can to preserve and commemorate those sacrifices.

For decades, TVA cut corners at the Kingston Fossil Plant, opting to pile ash atop ash rather than spending a few million on permanent storage. The current price tag for cleaning up the collapse of that massive ash pile now stands at $1.1 billion, and another community has endured tremendous upheaval and will never be the same.

We should tell TVA not to cut corners on its natural resources plan.

The difference between TVA's preferred environmental commitment and a full commitment is about $30 million. If they upped electricity rates to cover that expense, a kilowatt-hour would cost 2 one-hundredths of a cent more. A $100 utility bill would become $100.02.

Last year, TVA spent $2.13 billion buying coal, about 3 cents per kWh. A $100 utility bill five years ago now costs $130 because of fluctuations in the market price of coal and other fuels. Those costs and the cost of cleaning up the ash spill show up prominently in the cost of electricity, but the cost of top-of-the-line natural resource management is an imperceptible blip.

Go to and tell TVA we deserve flagship natural resource management.