Thursday Roundup: TVA for Sale?

Coal industry digs itself into a hole •  Microsoft game-maker quits after dissing small cities  •  Michigan Indian sues for right to raise breed of hog.



The president’s budget proposal says the federal government should consider selling the TVA, the federally owned utility that redefined the Southeastern United States by providing electricity and flood control for rural families and businesses. The agency also had a profound impact on development and settlement patterns in the Southeast.

President Obama’s budget proposal, submitted to Congress yesterday, says the administration “intends to undertake a strategic review of options for addressing TVA’s financial situation, including the possible divestiture of TVA, in part or as a whole.” The document says the Tennessee Valley Authority has achieved its original purpose as a public agency and now could be moved into private hands as a way to reduce expenses and generate revenue for the government. TVA does not receive federal subsidies, however.

The proposal was news to TVA’s leadership and backers, who said they had no warning it would be in the budget proposal.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee condemned the announcement. “This is one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas,” he said. “There is today no federal taxpayer subsidy for TVA, period. There is by law no federal taxpayer liability for TVA debt. And after deducting its debt, selling TVA would probably cost taxpayers money.”

TVA provides flood control through a reservoir system and generates electricity (through hydro-electric, coal-fired and nuclear plants) for more than 9 million people in most of Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. 

The Wall Street Journal reports

TVA reported a $60 million net income in 2012 on $11.2 billion in revenues. Its income is reinvested and doesn’t go back to taxpayers.

Coal’s Decline. The Washington Post reports that the coal industry is in far worse shape than anyone realizes. As many as 65% of coal-fired electrical plants could be under threat in coming years because of cheaper natural gas and tighter air pollution standards, according to a study by Duke University researchers. Though the coal industry blames its decline on Obama’s so-called “war on coal,” in reality the fortunes of the mineral are falling because of a combination of environmental and market factors. 

In the Eastern Kentucky coalfields, for example, production has fallen by more than half since 2000, according to the Whitesburg Mountain Eagle.

Game Over. The now former director of Microsoft’s games division doesn’t seem to think much of small-town America. 

In a Twitter exchange about the next version of Xbox, Adam Orth insulted small cities such as Blacksburg, Virginia, and Janesville, Wisconsin. “Why on earth would I live there?” he Tweeted.

If Orth did want to move to a smaller city, his job no longer stops him. He resigned after his tweets caused an uproar. Orth was in a conversation about how the next version of Xbox may require an always-on Internet connection when he slammed small cities.

 “Sorry, I don’t get the drama around having an ‘always on’ console,” Orth wrote on Twitter. “Every device now is ‘always on.’ That’s the world we live in.”

Well, not necessarily. Broadband connections are harder to come in rural areas. Though we expect Orth would be just fine in Blacksburg or Janesville. Orth was silent on his opinions of actual small towns. We’ll just have to read between the lines (or tweets) to see what he thinks. 

Raising Non-Native Pigs. A Michigan Native American farmer is challenging a state ban on raising non-native hogs, saying an 1842 federal treaty gives her permission to raise whatever species of pig she pleases, according to the Michigan Animal Farmers Association.

Belinda Turunen, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and owner of Ma Hog Farm, has bred a pig that can withstand tough northern winters. But the state Department of Natural Resources, she says, is trying to stop her from raising the species because it violates the agency’s order on non-native hogs. She’s suing the DNR.

The 1842 treaty between the U.S. government and the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians gives Native Americans special protections for hunting and “other usual privileges of occupancy.” Turunen’s attorney argues that these privileges include farming.

“Breeds of pig traditionally used in large, factory-style pork production facilities have had the hardiness bred out of them,” the court filing reads. “They do not survive in the frigid winters of the Upper Peninsula without heavy infrastructure investments.”