Bringing TVA Back to Sustainable Business
While today's story will not, by any means, be the last that readers will hear of the the Tennessee Valley Authority(TVA), it does represent the culmination of an abbreviated four part history of the agency. The original article focused on the Southern and Appalachian background, while also providing JustMeans gambolers with the Depression-era great works that radicals and technicians managed to bring to pass, all the while involving communities in a democratic process of policy and practice in the hills and hollows of Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Kentucky.
Part Two told the story of the side-tracking of any realistic hope for this original 'radical' intention of grassroots participation, as the exigencies of providing electricity for the Manhattan Project took precedence over all else, and aggressive attacks on 'Reds' and 'Pinks' and those-who-likes-Blacks reached a crescendo. Atomic bombs became hydrogen bombs, and anti-communism became almost a religious passion among a well-connected set of Southerners and politicos.
Part Three told of a return to relative normalcy, in terms of political tensions, but of a final abandonment of TVA's local 'roots,' even though plenty of commentators and onlookers recalled times that did not involve insensitive bureaucracy's riding roughshod over grassroots concerns, 'just like another utility.' The political economy of infighting, the turn toward coal and nuclear, environmental backlash, this and more were part and parcel of the third string on the bow.
In the background of this unwinding thread of narrative about TVA as an institution, stories of the mountains have appeared, both from the perspective of locals and of interested outsiders. Also underlying the main beats of the TVA tune, cultural interlopers have spoken of the role of 'art' in speaking of energy, in particular of the real story of coal-mining, which last week's TVA installment suggested was also of concern to communities and customers of TVA itself.
Furthermore, something like a thesis for this complicated interweaving of people and business and government and event has emerged over the past two articles as well. A reasonable position about TVA history could see the agency as an institutional strategic development that served several purposes simultaneously. It brought power to a region that had plentiful labor and a willingness to engage a military-industrial-complex infrastructure. It provided a model for demonstrating nuclear power and other priority capital projects of industry and government. It yielded significant propaganda and practical models for empire.
In contextualizing this thought process in regional terms, as an Appalachian phenomenon, one can find careful scholars who are working along similar lines.
David Walls, for example, for decades an analyst and annalist of the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge, albeit one operating out of California, has enriched local and general understanding of the region--and by implication of the parameters and impacts of TVA--with his efforts. He grapples with the duality of development and privation that characterizes the region since TVA opened its tent. He notes that many others have applied colonial and neo-colonial concepts to the region.
"My conclusion is that Central Appalachia is best characterized as a peripheral region within an advanced capitalist society. Each of the three current models was first developed in the context of underdevelopment in the Third World and later applied by analogy to the Appalachian case. I will summarize and criticize these models, suggest possible grounds for a synthesis, and argue for the alternative formulation suggested above."
This notion, of 'an internal periphery,' fits both descriptively and analytically with this humble correspondent's still-unfolding hypothesis. Thus, he and the readers will be hearing more from Mr. Walls, whose deep empathy for the region's culture, life forms, and complicated politics is clear from every line of his monographs.
Complication and contradiction epitomize Appalachian history; in this regard, TVA dovetails perfectly. In other ways too, dealing with ideology and popular consciousness and the mediation of politics, these mountain communities exemplify what is paradoxical and twisted. This week's posting invokes a particular aspect of such contrariety, the surface commitment to capitalism and marketplace economics.
Appalachia generally, and Tennessee in particular, often seem to represent 'poster children' for entrepreneurial spirit, ideal images of independent spirits whose dedication to free markets is as large as their sense of adventure. Two responses to this point of view seem apropos.
On the one hand, fortunately, from the perspective of THC, such representation is likely nonsensical for one important reason. This is the home of Highlander Center. The 'witch-hunts' against communists found, in fact, that many practitioners of social democracy affiliated, not only with TVA, but also with the folks and folkways of the mountain towns and farming communities that still make up sizable proportions of area populations. To propose that Horatio Alger wins out over compassion and sharing, that nitty-gritty capitalist values trump social-democratic norms, flies in the face of this reality, a tangible actualization of the region that will appear this week again.
On the other hand, unfortunately, from the perspective of THC, such representation is likely false for a very different reason. TVA stands for a government strategy for development. As such it has at least some elements of state capitalism. The pork barrel mixes easily with the five year plan--or, this week, the projected 'Twenty-Year Development' picture. Again, to trumpet entrepreneurship and independence in such an environment seems, at best, highly disingenuous.
In capsule, in down to earth terminology, a huge TVA enterprise, mostly private but with some measure still of public process and input, confronted the Southern Mountains as the 1990's began. Huge ideological changes that would spell administrative and operational alteration were in control of the marketplace for electricity. A 'faith' in markets somehow seemed to go hand-in-hand with the label 'natural monopoly' that diligent JustMeans readers will recall was a popular description, historically, of the utility industry.
Such paradoxical development seems to fit with much of what citizens encounter today: empires that propound 'freedom invasions;' proponents of deregulation who expand Federal law more so than at any other time in history; paeans to democracy while cults of expertise and official impunity preclude any but the most fanatical of citizen's from taking part in decision-making, let alone the policy process. In this context, TVA's plans for the next decades of the 21st century have taken shape in such a way that readers may watch, here, today.
The nineteen nineties, objectively so close, seem many epochs removed from the current moment. Despite such problematic occurrences as the nascent nightmare about to emanate from veterans of the first Gulf War, thanks to Depleted Uranium, and in spite of Papa Bush's CIA agenda in the Federal Government, this period has come to mean the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the triumph of the American Way, and the resplendence of Bill Clinton's ready wit and flashing smile and compassionate emotional frisson.
That such recollection is ludicrous seems to matter little. Compared to the growing chasms between rich and poor now, the omnipresence of eternal war today, and the indestructible appearance of a doomed future in the present moment, the early nineties were swell indeed. And memories of TVA may also appear beneficent in such a geist--atomic bankruptcy avoided, a huge base of capital projects and administrative apparatuses under firm managerial sway, etc.
A few more thoughts on snail-darters, and dams finished over the rulings of the highest court in the land, can hep put the period under review into perspective. When this humble correspondent reported on the complexity of the Supreme Court's decision in the snail-darter case last week, and promised a still-to-come amplification of those complifications, he was referring in essence to the fact that TVA, with help from Congress and purposive mediated misrepresentation, managed to build the dam and screw-over the people of Tennessee in the face of legal judgments to the contrary.
Multiple sources document this travesty of money triumphant over local community and natural wonder. These and other materials will assist THC in expanding on this narrative. For purposes of today's investigation, merely setting the stage for what TVA has become in the current moment will do. Billy Minser is a wildlife biologist and educator. His words have the ring and sting of truth.
“To me the snail darter case not only represented an important decision by the courts about the strength of the endangered species act and government to protect God’s creatures, but it also represented much more than that to me. The issue was about the abuse of the power of eminent domain by a giant bureaucracy that used underhanded dirty tricks to foist on the little people of Tennessee Valley and the United States in general, a project that we didn’t want. And it also showed how underhanded and deceitful and unethical our legislators, John Duncan, Sr., and Howard Baker, could be in circumventing the law that they went to law school to learn to uphold. The Supreme Court decision, they snuck around it, and forced this project on us.”
A few more thoughts on experts and democratic input seem apt, as well, in the lee of Dr. Minsler's protestations. The Tennessee Valley Authority has become a foremost authority on public perception management. A book at the very beginning of the period under review, TVA's Public Planning: the Vision, the Reality illustrates this point. The volume serves as a set of vignettes that assert the 1930's engagement process as a continuing phenomenon, without taking into account any of the copious cases to the contrary available for review.
To accomplish this diversion of attention and this misrepresentation of reality, TVA and its supporters rely on many methods. Arguably chief among these, however, is the elevation of its employee and consultant testimony to an unassailable level of pristine expertise, and the concomitant freezing out of public commentary or critique as a result.
A book by Keller Easterling details the historical development, ideological purposes, and political agendas underlying the growth of this 'technocracy movement.' The TVA of the last few decades has, meanwhile, operationalized this way of doing business and rationalizing its political economic agenda in terms that Allen Watts describes well, as a "change... from debating in politics to relying upon the technicians." These "covert persuaders" represent the practical plan of TVA to deal with its critics and do what it intended anyway.
The developmental dialectic over the past two decades has proceeded along two axes, both of which will appear prominently below. In the first piece of this four-part puzzle, THC anticipated such a telling of the tale. A month ago, this was the expected narrative of this essay.
From Market-Centered Predominance to a Democratic Decoupling
In the Preface to Arjun Makhijani's Carbon Free/Nuclear Free, a former head of the TVA gives some insight into the last season in which our rulers sang the praises of radioactive steam. S. David Freeman sings Makhijani's praises for the simple reason that he recognized the futility of a nuclear electric model.
But keeping TVA out of bankruptcy as a result of surplus power and an overdose of debt, not to mention saving snail darters and other adventures in litigation, are only predecessors to the deregulatory grave into which free-market myths try to bury a magnificent American model, that China and the rest of the world is still trying to emulate as we face profiteering plutocrats who want our grandchildren to glow." More or less, folks can follow along that trail in the sections that are to come.
FAUX FREEDOMS & ONE-DEAL MARKETPLACES IN THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF IMPERIAL AGENDAS
The Executive Summary of TVA's Integrated Resource Plan(IRP) promises that public input is a "significant component" of its process of policy and planning. However, what that all boils down to is that a fait accompli has emanated from the agency, as of September, 2010. It is now 'inviting' non-binding commentary, which offers no means except litigation to enforce responsiveness on TVA's part.
Specifically, to "incorporate public comment," "After the public comment period closes, all comments submitted will be taken into consideration and addressed in preparation for publishing the final IRP document. Additional modeling to analyze small changes to the strategies or scenarios will be executed based on both public and internal feedback. Key inputs and assumptions will be revised to reflect current conditions, which will lead to an updated analysis and evaluation of results."
Allowing THC to translate, this is the semantic meaning of that paragraph, which is the sum total of what 'public input' expounds in the IRP: a few expressions may change, but only 'small' shifts are otherwise happening. Historically, almost precisely the same output will result as the IRP draft contains.
This is in the context of a radically changed legislative environment for electricity, stemming from the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act(PURPA) of 1978, the Energy Policy Act(EPACT) of 1992, and a pair of Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission(FERC) rule announcements in 1996. While this has received the universally applied label of "deregulation," in fact the laws and rules have become more numerous, more complex, and more favorable to industry combination and financial experimentation.
A typical 'consumer' evaluation of these changes, from which much of TVA's new IRP flows, gives a vapid overview of possibilities and expectations that will 'trickle down' from the new approaches, all of which are sunny and delightful. More efficient and cheaper power will be what to expect, though no promises of "too cheap to meter" are forthcoming this time around the bend.
Another fairly tame examination, albeit one with some historical evidence attached that admits that much of what is being ballyhooed now led to disaster back in the days prior to State's and FDR's Public Utility reforms, comes out of the Public Broadcasting Corporation. Again, folks can expect faster and cheaper juice because of market magic.
The reality behind this unfolding 'policy-wonk' drama is, at the very minimum, much more complicated and problematic. More likely, the entire scheme is a profiteering promotion that may be utterly sinister in its varied impacts on policy and pocketbooks.
Competition, Efficiency, Price, & Profit
TVA, as part of its 'liberation' from Federal strings and concomitant 'complete responsibility' for its own ways and means, has enthusiastically endorsed this falsely labeled 'deregulation.' Craven Crowell was the Chairman of TVA at the time. He made a series of speeches in 1997-98 explaining all of this to investors, power-policy types, and corporate audiences generally. At a regular gathering of major prospective buyers, Crowell was frank about the 'sticky wicket' that was still unfolding half a decade later.
"TVA is an influential participant in the utility industry restructuring debate, which will ultimately define the competitive landscape. ...Congress has realized that electric utility restructuring is an extremely complex issue and must be approached carefully. Full retail open access is likely to result in a "leveling" of power prices across the U.S. This would result in a lower price of power for higher-cost states, but it would cause an increase in prices for lower-cost states. This obviously raises regional issues for legislators that will make it difficult to get agreement on national restructuring legislation."
In fact, the complexity is even more byzantine, as this humble correspondent will seek to elucidate in the third installment of a still-to-come series on utility economics related to his utility history overview from a month or so back For now, an observer can easily demonstrate that a worldwide process is unfolding in regard to electricity 'deregulation'--for which the term, "restructuring," is much more fair and honest. Korea and Japan have played pioneering roles in this redefinition of the enterprise of electric power.
Energizing America: A Blueprint for Deregulating America's Electricity Markets, a 'Backgrounder' from the Heritage Foundation, makes crystal clear both the increasing complexity and the tremendous excitement that this fake promise of fewer rules elicits among large investors, bankers, and like Lords of Finance.
Empty generalizations full of ideological cues typify contemporary American society. No wonder, then, should accompany the discovery that TVA has a central place in a celebration of free-markets that have never been free; after all, its very existence destroys the open-market ideal that its proponents now promulgate. At the same time, TVA is much more open about ugly issues and difficult problems in the process than are such 'flacks' for finance capital as a Heritage think-tank.
An independent look at this matter, on the other hand, from Public Citizen, which has nothing to gain except a better reputation for dogged honesty, received the title, "Disastrous Deregulation." While very moderate about the processes involved--i.e., not ever, ever, ever saying that capital's nature is to profiteer--and non-judgmental about motivations, its warnings concerning the results are frighteningly stark.
"Indeed, deregulation has already led to huge volatility in electricity prices, which have spiked at prices more than 100 times normal in many parts of the country over the past several years." Charley Higley, a certifiable energy planning analyst sees many indicia of troubled water ahead that THC would likely tend to view as capital's inherent proclivity to plunder the pocketbooks via Federal legislation whenever possible.
In fact, a defensively apologetic look at these matters, by the Association of Energy Engineers, admitted that the best result anticipated from this new avenue to regulation is that rates may not rise much. It cites the cost of paperwork, and uncertainty, as sources of blockage to the avowed purpose of lower prices.
Back in the 90's, TVA's Craven Crowell mentioned, in a speech to Cleveland's City Club, another prospect of this nascent regulatory environment. This new opportunity, about which the Heritage Foundation 'Backgrounder openly salivated, is the chance to combine and consolidate, which always yields fees to financiers and opportunities for horizontal monopolies instead of the local vertical monopolies that have applied to America's over 3,000 electric utilities.
The Department of Energy(DOE), meanwhile, is watching key developments in this area closely. One case to which it has paid particular attention is that of Tennessee itself, a timeline for which joyously anticipates the 'deregulated' present of 'low prices' that have yet to materialize, though to its credit, after massive rate hikes in the midst of its nuclear upsurge, TVA has held the line on price-hikes as well as almost any other utility.
Craven Crowell, speaking in Europe near the end of the Clinton administration, invited folks from the continent to 'watch and learn' from TVA, and from America's newest manifestation of its vaunted efficiency. He also provided a history lesson, which, quite honestly, delved into TVA's honorable beginnings of community engagement and multiple 'product lines' such as fertilizers and flood control.
One recent investigation of some magnitude, "Measuring the Benefits and Costs of Regional Electric Grid Integration," found 'interesting' the fact that no thorough study of benefits and costs had occurred, even after more than ten years of 'operating experience,' as it were. Generally equivocal in its own overall assessments, the report clearly found more costs to discuss than benefits.
More recently still, an impressive dissertation, Two Essays on Problems of Deregulated Electricity Markets shows huge price spikes and wild volatility in the California experience. After demonstrating amazing technical legerdemain--multivariate statistics, regression analysis, and plenty of calculus--all soon-to-be Dr. Perekhodtsev could say was that 'more capacity' must be necessary in the Golden State, falling back on supply and demand nostrums in spite of evidence of 'market opportunism' to the contrary.
In any event, TVA has become a full-throttle proponent of this evolving transition. In pondering its meaning, and anticipating a more comprehensive presentation of its parameters, folks should note that the legislative and policy agenda did not originate from citizens, nor did politicos provide the prime initiative for these blizzards of new laws and rules.
Instead, banks, brokers, and power-packagers--such as Enron--were both the cheerleaders for such a process and the source of much of the modeling and language of the varying legislative components themselves. Bankers and big-businessmen, perhaps, are capable, despite the fact that this would be a breach of fiduciary duty, of putting consumer needs before opportunities for profit. Then again, foxes might be capable of spoon feeding corn meal to chickens, but this humble correspondent would not lobby chickens to bank on this scenario.
A Delegated Direction Down the Nuclear Road
Wendell Berry's lively presentation of the false front that inheres in every single meeting that TVA and its ilk conduct with 'the public' is apt. Berry described himself as "unable to forget" the meeting that he attended with a nuclear utility, "it seems so emblematic of the fate of our country in our time."
He noted that, "seated on the stage" were a dozen or so 'Public Service' and Nuclear Regulatory Commission personnel, "whose job it presumably was to protect us from the acknowledged dangers of the use of nuclear power, as well as from the already recognized deceits and ineptitudes of Public Service Indiana." He wryly described the nature of such gatherings.
"The meeting proceeded as such meetings typically proceed. The fears, objections, questions, and complaints of the local population were met with technical jargon and with bland assurances." Lou Zellar said as much about TVA encounters. TVA's own IRP admits as much.
An analysis of Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC) and utility attitudes toward the hearing process is telling. "Hearings and other procedural aspects of NRC licensing and safety regulation, including the conduct of safety reviews, management problems within NRC, the use of rulemaking, and some aspects of enforcement, are highly controversial. The industry and the utilities perceive the hearings and other procedures as contributing minimally, if at all, to plant safety, but requiring overwhelming amounts of paperwork and management resources. Nuclear critics, on the other hand, see these procedures as their only means of raising safety concerns, and they strongly object to any attempts to limit the process and their participation."
Practically speaking, every 'improvement' of licensing and input that the industry--including TVA--has called for has come down to what this Princeton study suggested: 'get rid of the hearings; tell the people to shut up and let us work faster.' "Expediting" matters is all the rage among utilities that remember construction delays like a spooked horse remembers rattlesnakes.
Support for nukes is at best tepid, especially compared to the overwhelming public backing for renewable energy. One might think, per an IRP process that boasts about the 'importance' of public input, that sun-based power sources would get a big boost in TVA's twenty-year projections.
As a real estate broker friend likes to guffaw at random absurdity, "Don't make me laugh!!" The following is what the customers of TVA can expect, no matter what 'input' that they proffer, other than figuring out a strategy to assume command for a citizen-friendly power policy.
*Hydroelectric will increase by about 70 MW, roughly five per cent of a big nuke;
*Solar doesn't even make the cut, in terms of projections, though TVA accedes to agree to Purchase Power Agreements(PPA's) if somebody else develops the capacity;
*Wind, maddeningly, is a TVA success story--one large nukes worth of installed capacity has resulted from less than half the time and money that building a reactor takes--that they are now deigning to ignore, except for PPA's;
*Five gigantic reactor projects are in the planning pipeline, with allusions to much more to come from this 'clean and green' source of electric energy.
As a joke, this is hilarious. As honest policy, it is, to say the least, maddening.
Industry and business reports suggest that TVA is going full steam ahead, likely even more enthusiastically embracing a radioactive future than its hideously unbalanced IRP anticipates. As readers may have noticed last week, TVA has dropped a couple billion dollars into the Brown's Ferry plant that made a bid to become an Alabama Chernobyl.
Another commentator, pointing out that TVA's still uncomfortable debt burden is almost entirely due to the nuclear construction program that S. David Freeman and Dr. Makhijani had to deconstruct, noted crisply that "TVA (plans) to shutter coal plants, turn to nuclear." Allison Gorman, an analyst for Business Tennessee Magazine, wrote a probing assessment of financial and management issues attendant on TVA's proposed nuclear bazaar.
"Revolutionary or not, the plan will depart from TVA’s more recent long-term strategies, which sought to reduce its debt (albeit with only marginal success). Board member Dennis Bottorff, a primary architect of the utility’s new financial strategy, says his 30-plus years as a Nashville banker give him a broader perspective on TVA’s debt, which he insists cannot be singled out as an indicator of the utility’s health. While its debt currently stands at some $25 billion, for example, its debts-to-assets ratio has declined—a truer measure of TVA’s financial viability, he says."
Looked at in these optimistic terms, according to Gorman allows a "(r)ecasting the debt in relative terms, ... essential to TVA’s nuclear future... . TVA hopes within a decade to finish a partly built reactor at its Watts Bar plant in Spring City, Tenn., and to build two new reactors, featuring as-yet-untested technology, at its Bellefonte site in Hollywood, Ala. While TVA paid for the $1.8 billion Browns Ferry restart out of operating revenue, Kilgore says TVA will incur new debt to help fund new nuclear construction."
No 'once-burned,' 'twice-shy' attitudes here, nosirree. TVA is adopting a no-holds-barred stance to obtain the top-job in the wheezing start of Dick-and-Barack's traveling-nuclear-renaissance show.
A little reported aspect of TVA's nuclear program, revealed by Los Alamos National Lab whistleblower Ken Bergeron, in his monograph, Tritium on Ice, is that TVA's nukes now regularly contribute tritium to the H-bomb factories downstream in Knoxville. The volume develops the background and technical attributes of this phenomenon, much heralded, at least by this humble correspondent, yet somehow generally missed by 'established' sources.
Bergeron makes clear the implications of this programmatic mingling of these always connected, but always supposedly separate spheres, in the subtitle of his dandy little muckraking exercise: "The Dangerous New Alliance of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power." Though THC would argue strongly against the qualifying adjective, "new," Bergeron assassinates the pretensions of the power industry in the title of another recent article: "The Death of No Dual Use."
A popular uprising has always loomed on the horizon of TVA's attempt to irradiate the future of the Appalachians. Some of these outpourings of passion for sustainability, human safety, and general common sense are organizations that THC has profiled Others remain to debut in these pages: the Nuclear Information and Research Service; Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance: the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy; the Foundation for Global Sustainability; and Physicians for Social Responsibility, to name but a few of the impassioned proponents of human survival on the basis of glowing energy from the sun, instead of glowing radiation in our homes and communities.
And while TVA would hope to 'expedite' its way to finessing confronting these persistent and increasingly sophisticated expert opponents of radioactive water boilers, they are not leaving home without putting up a battle royal against this economic and political abomination, let alone considering the grotesque impact of the Nuclear Fool Cycle on human health and safety. Increasingly, established sources document the positive impact on process and policy of just such citizen involvement.
For now, especially from the point of view of this humble correspondent, the issue is how to go about manifesting a power spike among just these leading community voices. More importantly, the key to this rash of reactors not becoming a death sentence is to find a way to capacitate communities on the firing line to join the networks, form alliances, and take up this cause in combination with a generalized movement for environmental and social justice. Of course, to THC, such a movement might end up needing to confront certain proclivities of capitalism, from union-busting to imperial murder, but perhaps 'sustainable business' is possible in a friendlier way.
This humble correspondent would love someone who could show him how this might happen. In any event, much more remains to report about the nuclear posture of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Now and again, such additional materials will appear, as time and opportunity permit.
In addition, as noted before, among the forthcoming works that this humble correspondent anticipates about nuclear generally are a deconstruction of the public hearing process, promised updates long overdue on Plant Vogtle, a general analysis of radiation and risk in regard to nuclear power, and continued reports on Depleted Uranium. Time and tide will see all things to appropriate conclusions.
As for other aspects of TVA today, the hour is late, and this humble correspondent knows that he has worn even the gentlest reader's patience thin. All THC can say is that some of this data may be useful for survival, and other evidence here provided may increase one's personal power supply, prosperity, and ability to promulgate 'business better,' renewable energy, and general democratic forms of governance and participation.
Lou Zellar has presented one approach to responding to the fake freedom that TVA proffers in its packages of already-decided options-for-the-future. This amounts to a boot-on-the-ground attempt to overwhelm the techniques--of propaganda, of bureaucratized social manipulation, of expert pronouncement, and so forth--that TVA and sister entities employ, and such tactics can have an impact.
Wendell Berry points this out in his collection of essays, Home Economics, in which he describes a simple question by a community member that derailed the nuclear agenda. Overwhelming local support, presence, and a focus on what the notion of 'stakeholder' really must include accomplished the sort of punch that Zellar describes BREDL's having had on occasion.
However, if such case-by-case confrontations are to amount to more than an occasional opportunity for 'hurrah!' in an ongoing environment of devolution and decline, then clearly a more cohesive and organized conception of resistance must eventually take hold among those who would resist ruling corporate and state interfaces. The necessity for deeper thinking and more incisive organization must be something that citizens acknowledge, if for no other reason than because the function and functionaries of TVA, and all like acronyms of power and technical acuity, will always show up in highly organized and well-conceived order of battle.
This orchestration flows from the ever-present necessity for these agents of systemic agendas to achieve clearly articulated and detailed agendas. Atomic bomb factories cannot merely spring up separately in ways that cohere. Electrical grids that only operate on the basis of high-output producers do not develop according to physical necessity. All such operations are political: they inherently come about because of strategic development.
These strategic necessities absolutely dictate that TVA and other such agencies operate along preconceived pathways, in which the understanding of objectives has already occurred. Thus, in the present context, 'hearings' and community meetings and almost all such gatherings have little or nothing deliberative to accomplish. Nor does any 'public' presence serve a purpose over which the public has more than the most minimal and occasional control.
Log-rolling operations, whether these are corporate or governmental in nature, may seem to represent merely more 'good-old-boy' power-brokering at work. But an honest assessment of such phenomena as this--'I'll scratch your back on the new nuclear loan guarantees if you'll throw your support behind the renewal of the fighter contract' and on and on and on...and on--must notice that only certain sorts of logs receive the imprimatur of acceptability and are therefore capable of being rolled along, as it were.
A solar power log-rolling eventuality is inconceivable, as things now stand. A mutual understanding to transfer $100 billion per annum from military spending to community gardens, improved schools, renewable energy, and local tools is no more plausible than is the idea that Obama and the Fed Governors would decided to distribute the newest $600 billion in stimulus funds in the form of $2,000 checks to every man, woman, and child in the U.S.
Just so, TVA is not going to set aside administrative and fiscal capacity to create $20 billion or so worth of small wind, small hydro, and solar voltaic energy operations, in lieu of its present nuclear commitments. This does not comport with the already-chose strategic direction, which not only has nothing to do with local priorities or desires, but also must ignore and crush such priorities and desires if necessary.
In similar fashion, citizen complainants about the current scene can often see pork-barrel politics as the root cause of certain choices. Corruption leads to bad judgment. Personal greed and ambition make gatekeepers inevitable prey to rotten schemes. Just like 'log-rolling' and other routine indicia of all politics, 'pork-barrel' payoffs are everyday occurrences.
Unfortunately, however, rooting them out--even miraculously ridding every legal body on earth of such manifestations of favoritism--we might recall in such a case of the admonition to be careful what we wish for--would not disturb the fundamental drive to bring about toxic, high cost, centrally controlled, and financially-driven projects and policies. Again, strategic considerations overrule any parochial perspective.
People say lawsuits can protect them from such noxious results, or impel administrators and decision-makers to choose more wisely and appropriately. However, such views are strategically empty.
People also say better media relations and output can work, in tandem with legal action, to stop what is horrific and common and to jump-start what is beneficent and rare. Unfortunately, such ideations completely misses strategic considerations.
People also call for electoral and legislative solutions. Again, though, overarching conceptual thinking, planning, and analysis are lacking, and frustration and bitterness lie down that pathway as surely as 'change to believe in' was an invitation to vile disappointment.
For a variety of reasons, which THC will undertake to illuminate further in the fullness of time, all such ad hoc responses that rely on systemic approaches to dismantle systematic oppression are likely to fall well short of achieving relief. Moreover, many pieces of this humble correspondent's JustMeans output have already provided powerful arguments to prove that all efforts that accept the present paradigms are likely inadequate, For purposes of this article, only one of these rationales of inadequacy is critical to consider.
Essentially, this notion proposes that no attempt to effectuate reform can succeed if it leaves untouched the mechanisms and protocols that resulted in the evil condition in the first place. Attacks on corruption, law suits, articles in the New York Times, and new Demopublican and Republocrat legislators fail to touch anything near the core of TVA's immunity to complaint and the impunity with which it acts.
Under the auspices of the U.S.A. today, especially as manifested in agencies like TVA, stewardship equals development; furthermore, development equals the need, or the greed, of finance capital, starting at the highest levels of imperial perquisite and moving down through the food chain to the lowliest real estate or other money agent.
These purposeful choices emanate from sources other than how wonderful nuclear is; they come about for reasons other than war's being the best choice. Therefore, popular resistance to them must manifest more than criticizing the things themselves. Popular resistance must, somehow, discern and evince systemically strategic alternatives to present standard operating protocols.
Occasional upset victories notwithstanding, only a community movement that has a doubly solid foundation has much chance of rerouting the steamroller that TVA intends to operate in the Appalachian region, as a precursor to what will then come to pass around the world. The first key to an alternate transformation is a recognition and analysis of the imperial, plutocratic, and capitalistic underpinnings of TVA's strategies and operations. And the second sine qua non is a networked activation of conscious communities, both within regions and between regions all across the globe.
All of this humble correspondent's efforts invite readers to drink deeply of complex stews of political-economic reality. This opportunity to imbibe, however, transpires in the context of never-enough-time and the always-burning longing for sustainability, 'business better,' renewable energy, and so on and so forth.
Thus, an inevitable tension accompanies each textual thread that appears here. On the one hand, more profound analysis and greater amounts of data and information are always required. On the other hand, readers want simplicity, results, and, maybe, a bit of entertainment mixed into the bargain.
Talk about a tough row to hoe: the entire world seems hellbent to embrace ecocidal forms of interaction and growth; extremely intricate sets of relationships and complex patterns from the past are critical to view if understanding these harmful formulations is to happen; only organization and consciousness antithetical to contemporary mores and practice have more than the slightest prayer of achieving results. Ready? Set? Go! In five paragraphs, with a joke or two, do the deed.
One imperative drives this humble correspondent toward depth textuality and historical completeness. Another requisite calls for light, sweet brevity, 'positive thinking,' and marketing assessments. Needless to say, those two ends can never easily meet.
THC, however, knowing that 'neutrality' is hopeless, and that he is clear as to 'which side he is on,' has no difficulty deciding how to proceed. The deep slog through the mire it will be, so long as the sun rises in the East and the support systems are operative.
Zygmunt J.B. Plater, the law professor and lead attorney for fish and community in Hill v. Tennessee, lays out a similar conundrum in a recent explication of the case and its meaning. What he says applies to anyone who wants to improve institutional performance, reform policy, or do 'business better.'
"Thirty years later the case still reverberates ... as an ironic reference in popular culture. Here is the iconic caricature of the case that most readers... will probably have internalized: A two-inch endangered minnow, pulled out of a hat at the last possible moment — and the federal Endangered Species Act — were misused by extremist environmentalists to block completion of an economically beneficial $150 million TVA hydroelectric dam. ...(Though) every single element of that caricature is inaccurate. ...(t)he force of the caricature, however, carried far beyond Tennessee to affect major political and policy battles at the national level."
THC would disagree with the good professor Plater about the effectiveness of law suits. But he is unerring in pointing out that most citizens accept, as if they were valid, assertions and ideas that are, at best, foolish lies--and at worst, criminal and internally inconsistent madness. And Dr. P. suggestively notes the 'reverberations' of the case, implicitly a mediation of fraud that folks are, for the most part, willing enough to accept.
THC here concludes a series about an important institutional manifestation of what could become sustainable business governance, but that now is a business-as-usual implementation of ruling class imperial and political economic agendas. The upshot of this is that folks either need to be happy with bad business, exploitation, and degradation, or they need a way to grapple with some of what this humble correspondent has been tossing into the hopper, about TVA and otherwise.
He has, for example, asked for a consideration of philosophies of interrelation; requested that a 'great evasion' of Marxism cease and desist; proffered ideas repeatedly about 'strong democracy' and participatory methods; and plenty more besides. Because of his addiction to media, this humble correspondent has over and over made reference to the potential power of Peoples Information Networks.
Today, THC gives yet another introductory precis of a useful analytical tool. As his project in Library School, for his primitive printing course, pointed out, "Answers Require Questions." Folks want answers, and they prefer them via a twitter or quick Facebook entry. Alas, if that is the hoped-for avenue to accurate assessment, perhaps a map to 'Big Rock Candy Mountain' ought to be accessible to all.
The methodology for consideration here is decidedly not easy to twitter or to summarize in a sentence or two on Facebook. But, like the rest of what THC has provided, it may assist in survival, if folks can get down with that. Sustainable business, in any event, depends on some such avenue of analysis as this.
Paul Robbins has written an introductory text, Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. At the end of his preface, a lovely account of a trek through Yellowstone as a trip through political economic developments at every turn, he explains his particular conception of trial and error.
His job "is to demonstrate that politics are inevitably ecological and that ecology is inherently political. But more than this, I intend to show that research in the field can shed light on environmental dynamism and surprise,...so addressing not only the practical problems of equity and sustainability, but also basic questions in environmental science."
That such endeavors make plumbing socioeconomic and historical depths an essential task ought to go without saying. As much as has appeared in this group of essays about the Tennessee Valley Authority, copious quantities more are essential to explicate, if citizenship, participation, questions of power and justice are the point of learning. And if something else is the point, 'pray tell,' as my mother was wont to say.
Another group of environmental scientists put the matter in these words. Some sort of capacity as that which they see in Political Ecology is essential "to strengthen our ability to account for the dialectical processes through which humans appropriate, contest, and manipulate the world around them."
A youthful contributor to this field has noted that most of her mentors want to study Kenya or the Amazon, or the jungles of Micronesia or Central America, or other so-called Third World environs, when the stresses and strains of injustice and political inequity and power struggles explode and implode all around the communities in our midst at home--in similar fashion as THC pondered why Walt Ratterman felt compelled to visit Afghanistan to help install solar panels. This young scholar, full of the passive voice and struggling to articulate ideas beyond her brief experience, nevertheless commands attention from those who want to know and to act effectively.
Her essay, "A Road to Nowhere," concerns a maltreated and alienated corner of North Carolina, the citizens of which now essentially view TVA and the Feds as representatives of Satan. The rest of us, if we don't attend to such stories, are in line for similar treatment as Swain County has undergone.
She explains what these folks are seeking represents a problem of Political Ecology, though they are at the heart of the U.S. continent and not some colonial backwater. She might well have been quoting Dr. Walls, whose theory of an 'internal periphery' as explicating some of the travails of Appalachia, appeared at the beginning of this essay. In any event, she speaks sagely; readers should listen.
"(A)t its root, this conflict is, for local residents, a power struggle. Locals have mobilized in an attempt to gain political and economic power over this landscape, which they have not historically possessed."
Dear Readers: if we are not 'mobilizing in an attempt to gain political and economic power over (our) landscapes,' once again, 'pray tell!' What in the world are we doing?
An empty obeisance to sutainability, to 'business better,' yields nothing other than brief good feelings without political and social content, which, again, requires a deeper analysis and some sense of strategic orientation. The philosopher Jacque Ellul called much of what well-intentioned petty-bourgeois sorts are seeking a form of abstract humanism.
"Alas, the panacea of merely theoretical humanism is as vain as any other." Something firmer and more materially and historically grounded must be our end, or the means to our destruction is likely on the assembly line, bearing the moniker of 'nuclear renaissance,' or something equally appealing. Professor Ellul implored us to consider.
"Who is too blind to see that a profound mutation is being advocated here? A new dismembering and a complete reconstitution of the human being so that he can at last become the objective (and also the total object) of techniques. Excluding all but the mathematical element, he is indeed a fit end for the means he has constructed. He is his essence. Man becomes a pure appearance, a kaleidoscope of external shapes, an abstraction in a milieu that is frighteningly concrete - an abstraction armed with all the sovereign slings of Jupiter the Thunderer." Who indeed is so blind? Inquiring minds would like to know.