Legal Petition: TVA Violating Customers’ Rights by Giving Millions to Dirty Energy Lobbyists

by | Feb 21, 2020

Contact: Howard Crystal, (202) 809-6926, [email protected]

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations petitioned the Tennessee Valley Authority today to stop giving millions of dollars in ratepayer money to anti-environmental advocacy groups like the Edison Electric Institute and Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition.

Today’s rulemaking petition, filed under the Administrative Procedures Act, notes that these groups litigate and lobby to deny protections to imperiled wildlife, delay the critical transition to clean energy and hamper efforts to combat climate change. TVA is violating its customers’ First Amendment rights by compelling them to fund this work against the interest of Tennessee Valley communities, the petitioners say.

“TVA claims to care about our climate, but it’s giving millions in ratepayer money to lobby groups fighting the crucial transition to clean energy,” said Howard Crystal, legal director at the Center’s Energy Justice Program. “There’s a desperate need to support clean power and the energy needs of low-income customers. Instead TVA is dumping big bucks into organizations that undermine protections for our climate and the air we breathe.”

TVA spends millions of dollars supporting groups engaged in controversial political advocacy. The agency pays more than $500,000 a year to Edison Electric, which has fought to roll back state incentives for rooftop solar. TVA has also paid more than $7 million to the Utility Air Regulatory Group, which has been involved in a large number of lawsuits challenging federal clean air rules.

Although TVA claims it pays these groups for other services, in 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects against compelled payments to unions due to their political activities, regardless of the specific use of those payments. Similarly, today’s petition notes, TVA ratepayers may not be forced through their electricity rates to fund these groups at all.

TVA also donates millions of dollars of ratepayer funds to charitable organizations. Today’s petition also calls on TVA to allow its customers to make their own decisions on where to devote their charitable dollars.

“TVA should immediately stop giving their customers’ money to special interest lobbyists to promote backward-looking energy policies,” said Glen Brand, vice president of policy and advocacy for Solar United Neighbors. “Forcing ratepayers to finance policies counter to their own interests is simply wrong.”

The petition asks TVA to issue new regulations that would proscribe these payments, and gives TVA 30 days to respond.

“TVA should stick to its mission instead of funding the fight against clean energy with ratepayers’ money,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, or Gasp. “Transitioning to clean, renewable energy as quickly as possible in a just and equitable way will undoubtedly improve the quality of life for those who live, work and play in the valley.”

TVA is a federally owned corporation and the nation’s largest public power provider. It generates electricity for more than 9 million customers in Tennessee, northern Alabama, northeastern Mississippi, southwestern Kentucky, and portions of northern Georgia, western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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