TVA is flush with cash. Why is it fleecing its customers? | Opinion
                                                                                                                                                                                                       Marquita Bradshaw and Gaby Sarri-Tobar Guest columnists  December 15, 2021
                                                                                                                                                                                                        Instead of financing trade groups that block efforts to address climate change, TVA could be a leader in renewable energy and real climate solutions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Every day skyrocketing utility bills throw millions of families into debt. In the Tennessee Valley, where customers pay some of the highest electricity bills in the nation, that can mean losing electricity altogether.

These struggles will only worsen as the COVID-19 pandemic, rising gas prices and climate-caused extreme weather put even greater strain on our energy system and our pocketbooks. The future looks bleak unless we confront the climate emergency by transitioning to affordable, accessible 100% renewable energy. 

So how does the Tennessee Valley Authority, our country’s largest public power provider, respond? 

By gutting its energy efficiency programs and stifling renewable energy growth at every turn. By funneling millions in ratepayer funds to anti-environment trade groups, such as the Edison Electric Institute. By trading dirty coal for more toxic fossil-fuel generation, which disproportionately harms low-wealth communities and communities of color.  

Without action, TVA’s 10 million ratepayers will continue to get fleeced and our climate will suffer. 

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TVA must finally be held accountable for its misuse of ratepayer money and its abuse of the planet. It must stop prioritizing fossil fuel industries at the expense of families and the environment it is obligated to protect.

Earlier this year our organizations, Sowing Justice and the Center for Biological Diversity, along with other allies, sued TVA to force it to stop its practice of using ratepayer funds to help bankroll industry-backed organizations that pose tremendous threats to the climate by fighting clean energy development and environmental protections. 

The lawsuit seeks an order forcing the utility to address a 2020 petition, which asks the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to prevent this kind of misspending.

Since 2001 TVA has paid more than $7 million to the Utility Air Regulatory Group, an industry trade association that opposes Clean Water Act protections, including requirements for safe disposal of coal ash from power plants put in place since TVA’s notorious 2008 Kingston coal ash spill. The spill has led to the deaths of more than 50 workers.  

Every year TVA pays about $500,000 in dues to be a member of the Edison Electric Institute, which advocates against environmental safeguards, has fought to roll back state incentives for rooftop solar and has participated in the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to undermine climate science. 

How to make electricity more affordable

TVA has asked the court to dismiss the case. Rather than act in the public interest and respond to the petition, TVA wants to absolve itself of any accountability to its customers.

This is an important legal battle that raises a broader question of whether our country’s largest public utility is willing to kick its fossil-fuel addiction, lead by example and help avoid the most catastrophic consequences of the climate emergency.

Instead of financing trade groups that block efforts to address climate change, TVA could be a leader in renewable energy and real climate solutions. Distributed renewable energy, like rooftop and community solar, would reduce demand for centralized TVA power and make electricity more affordable for TVA’s customers.

The utility can certainly afford it. TVA’s net income for the 2021 fiscal year was $1.5 billion. At the last board meeting, the Trump-nominated board approved a whopping 35% raise for CEO Jeff Lyash, who’s already the country’s highest-paid federal employee. 

But TVA is dangerously stuck in the fossil-fuel age. The utility generates just 3% of electricity from solar, wind and energy efficiency. It plans to emit more than 34 million tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2038, according to its own projections. TVA is set to retire less than a quarter of its current coal fleet by 2030, and earlier this year announced plans to expand fossil fuel operations at two dirty gas plants.

It’s critical that TVA return to its pioneering roots and tackle climate and energy justice. That means ending all support for trade associations, like the Edison Electric Institute, that harm our climate, jeopardize our future and prop up a racially unjust energy system. 

TVA could lead the way to a 100% clean, renewable energy future. It’s what ratepayers want and what this crisis demands. As it is, this once-progressive utility is leading us, our children and grandchildren into a very dark time.

Marquita Bradshaw is executive director of the Memphis-based Sowing Justice. Gaby Sarri-Tobar is energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.

 waterloop #96: Rising Up Against Environmental Racism with Chandra Taylor and Marquita Bradshaw

May 15, 2021


A plan to route an oil pipeline through predominantly black neighborhoods in Memphis is an example of how minority communities across the country are overburdened by pollution and subjected to environmental racism, say Chandra Taylor, Senior Attorney and Leader of the Environmental Justice Initiative at the Southern Environmental Law Center, and Marquita Bradshaw, Executive Director of Sowing Justice. They discuss how the cumulative impacts of pollution in communities like southwest Memphis must be considered when proposals such as the pipeline arise. Chandra and Marquita explain how to respond to projects that pose pollution and public health threat to a community, including the critical need for grassroots mobilization and exploration of all options at the local, state, and federal levels.

What’s next for Marquita Bradshaw                                                                                                                                                                                                           Former Senate candidate establishes Tennessee-focused environmental justice organization

Stephen Elliott   February 15, 2021

Marquita Bradshaw pulled off one of 2020’s biggest political upsets when she won the Democratic nomination for retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s seat, besting a well-funded candidate supported by national Democrats while spending less than $25,000.

The general election was a different story: She lost handily to the Republican nominee, Bill Hagerty, who is now in Washington, D.C., as Tennessee’s junior senator.

It was her first run for office, and though she’s not ruling out another in the future, she’s returning to her roots for her next chapter. A veteran of environmental justice and labor organizing, Bradshaw has established a new nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization, Sowing Justice. Its goal, she said in an interview, is to work with communities across the state on environmental justice projects. That could include helping community groups raise money, develop communication plans and run voter education and registration efforts. Sowing Justice will offer grants worth between $500 and $3,000 for their community partners.  

“I met so many amazing communities during the campaign that wanted help, and now I have a vehicle to be able to deliver a way that empowers communities and gets people to become high-info voters that are civically engaged,” she said.

For now, the work is focused on Tennessee, though in some cases projects could bleed into neighboring states. The organization could expand its reach beyond Tennessee if it meets fundraising and growth targets, Bradshaw said.

Sowing Justice’s founding board members include Bradshaw’s mother, longtime Memphis environmental justice activist Doris DeBerry-Bradshaw, as well as A. Philip Randolph Institute President Kermit Moore, Erica Owen, Moriesha Doby and Anthony Moore Jr.

Bradshaw said her nomination — the first major-party statewide nomination of a Black woman in Tennessee — was “a door opening,” and that people persistently ask her to run again.

“I have not ruled out running for anything,” she said.

The focus for now, though, is Sowing Justice.

“The foundation of health and safe communities really comes from people being more civically engaged, and that is what this organization is doing: finding a way for people normally left out of the process to participate fully,” she said.

Byhalia Opposition Sign-On Letter 

Feb, 2021


Dear Memphis City Council,

The undersigned organizations are writing today to encourage this council to support Councilman Edmund Ford, Sr. and Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren’s Resolution Opposing the Byhalia Connection Pipeline. We believe that this council’s vote to oppose the Pipeline is pivotal to the health and well being of this community, our country and our climate.

We believe you all have the power to uphold the values of justice deeply rooted in our democratic system and in the hopes of the people of Memphis. This project is a manifestation of the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, systemic poverty, and ecological devastation. This upcoming Tuesday, we believe that collectively this body can decide to disrupt these systems that have plagued our communities, our cities, and our nation for too long.

This proposed crude oil pipeline funded by the fossil fuel corporations Valero Energy Corporation and Plains All American is burdening the people of Memphis and Mississippi, and pushing our climate closer to the point of no return, for the profit motives of corporations. It is past time to put people over corporate gains and to hear the cries of the people in communities across the world. In Memphis, it seems the cry is clear: “No Oil in Our Soil.”

This crude oil pipeline is a textbook case of environmental racism, injustice, and environmental degradation. In targeting the Southwest Memphis neighborhood, and the greater Memphis area, this project hopes to force low-wealth Black communities to carry this billion-dollar corporation’s oil barrels on their backs with no public benefit. In the US, between 1986 and 2013, there have been nearly 8,000 incidents of pipeline leaks (around 300 per year) . If this pipeline were to leak it would contaminate the local aquifer, which provides drinking water to Memphis and the North Mississippi counties of DeSoto and Marshall, with carcinogenic crude oil. Not only is the Byhalia Connection Pipeline plan proposing the construction of a high-pressure crude oil pipeline above your city’s water aquifer, it is along an active earthquake zone, greatly increasing the potential for a spill. In the case of an earthquake, the impacts to the community from this project would be devastating.

We have seen the hydrogeologic reporting from Dr. Douglas J. Cosler that “ one pound of crude oil can contaminate 25,000,000 gallons of groundwater ... The route of the pipeline cuts through the Davis Wellfield, which is operated by Memphis Light, Gas & Water and is in an area known to be vulnerable to groundwater contamination. The Davis Wellfield provides drinking water for several predominantly Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis.

Beyond the immediate hazards that the proposed Byhalia crude oil pipeline poses to our drinking water, it also would be another significant driver of fossil fuel consumption, and in turn, climate-polluting greenhouse gas emissions. As you know, our society is facing an existential crisis from climate change, and it is imperative that our elected leaders do everything in their power to stop expanding fossil fuel infrastructure and transition to clean, renewable energy. Just in the last few days, international press have been reporting on the alarming public health impacts of the fossil fuel industry, which accounted for one-in-five global deaths in 2018. As usual, it is people of color and the poor who are the most burdened by the impacts of the fossil fuel industry. 

Last fall, Southwest Memphis community members came together to form Memphis Communities Against the Pipeline (MCAP) to condemn the pipeline and put pressure on local officials to support their fight to put an end to the proposed pipeline. MCAP has garnered support from landowners, community associations in Westwood, Whitehaven, Boxtown, West Junction and Walker Homes, Protect Our Aquifer, Sierra Club - Tennessee Chapter, Sowing Justice, and The Climate Reality Project: Memphis and Mid-South Regional Chapter, and the National Black Environmental Justice Network. In addition to those organizations, they have support from several elected officials including the United States Congressman, Steve Cohen. Like the historic Black community of Union Hill in Virginia that organized and won against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline , MCAP is poised to do what it takes to protect communities in Memphis. We hope that you all, as elected officials, will put your citizen’s health, safety, and futures first.

Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided its recommendation for the fast-track permit for this crude oil pipeline’s permit, they made clear that local government and local utilities will have the final say on protecting the people’s water and interests. We hope you will raise your voice to end the injustices that are being perpetrated on the backs of the people of this city. We hope your vote and actions will be to oppose this pipeline as Councilmen Ford, Sr. and Dr. Warren are proposing. It is not only the best decision but also the morally just one.

Thank you for your consideration.

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