Tennessee Valley Authority

Apr 28, 2009

tva[Note: updated on 2.16.2011]

What is the TVA?

The Tennessee Valley Authority was one of FDR’s most innovative New Deal ideas. The TVA was conceived to provide power production, navigation, flood control, erosion control, fertilizer manufacturing, and general economic development in the hard-hit Tennessee Valley region. Roosevelt asked Congress to create “a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise,” and on May 18, 1933, Congress passed the TVA Act. TVA is a public corporation, managed by a board of three directors who are appointed by the President for nine-year terms and confirmed by the Senate. The Authority has certain functions and duties defined by law within the drainage area of the Tennessee River (about three-quarters of the state of Tennessee).

What’s the significance?

Conservatives tend to criticize the TVA as an example of “big government,” whereas progressives see it as an example of successful public investment and a key New Deal program that transformed a region and helped improve the lives of millions.

Who’s Talking About It?

Roosevelt historian David Woolner sees an opportunity for a modern-day TVA in the smart grid...He also sees the Gulf Coast oil spill and a chance to put regional planning initiatives like the TVA into action...Jon Rynn notes that it was set up as an entire system that had many positive feedback loops, and he same could apply to green energy jobs...E. Wayne Stewart defends the New Deal's power to stop the Great Depression, in part with jobs created by the TVA...Deal Breaker Amity Shlaes blames the Tennesse Valley Authority for “crowd[ing] out private utilities that hoped to light up the South…Writing for Libertarian blog SmallGovTimes.com, Jim Powell blasts the TVA as “America’s biggest monopoly,” pronouncing it a “bureaucratic kingdom” devoid of public or private controls…In the National Review, Conrad Black defends TVA, pointing out that it and other New Deal projects helped  Roosevelt rebuild America “at an historic bargain cost”…On NewProgressiveVoices.com,  Nate Loewentheil and Vera Eidelman praise TVA as permanently transformed an entire region and creating an entire new set of industries.

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