There's some encouraging news this week that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) may swear off wet fly ash storage at coal-fired power plants, but who knows if we can trust them to do so when the heat is off months from now.
Then again, maybe the heat never will come off the TVA, which seems to be lurching in recent months from one disaster to another. Consider the new Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit report out this week on the financial abuse and fraud at the TVA. As our friends at Facing South put it:
The Tennessee Valley Authority, already caught in a legal quagmire following December's disastrous spill of a billion gallons of coal ash from its Kingston power plant, is in trouble yet again -- this time for out-of-control credit card spending by its employees. A two-year review by TVA's Inspector General found that spending as part of a program created in 1995 for minor business-related expenses had ballooned to more than $75 million annually ...
The OIG report prompted this scathing report from the Associated Press:
Televisions, X-Boxes, alcohol, Internet software and tuition are just some of the questionable purchases made by Tennessee Valley Authority employees on their government charge cards, according to auditors in TVA's inspector general's office. A two-year review of the card program, created by the nation's largest public utility in 1995 for small business-related expenses, found spending has swelled to more than $75 million annually, the audit said. Nearly a third of the purchases in fiscal 2007 were for more than $5,000 and many apparently were rubber-stamped by administrators. One unidentified cardholder had more than $5.9 million in charges on six cards over two years.
This from the same Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight that bungled the Kingston wet-ash storage site and also is in charge of other such sites across the Southeast U.S.
How did the TVA respond to the findings of $75 million of abuse and apparent fraud?
It turns out that Tennessee Valley Authority President and Chief Executive Tom Kilgore leapt into action by sending out an email to his employees encouraging them to use their credit card properly. Ouch! Zing! Talk about your 40 lashes with a wet noodle!
The problems at the TVA aren't going to away on their own. We have to agree with this blogger at the Shelbyville (TN) Times Gazette:
I bumped into this story this morning about fraud, waste, and abuse of TVA issued expense credit cards and I must say that I am disturbed by it. In the military, expense cards of this nature were common, but fraud was not. Why? Accountability. If a purchase was made on the expense card, the user had to document every single purchase with supporting documents. These people at TVA have been on a spending spree and many of the people charged with ensuring that the purchases were necessary have been negligent. These people should be relieved of their duties in my opinion. The report states that televisions, video games, college tuition, and alcohol were charged during 2008. I read parts of the official TVA report and I could not believe the level of negligence that has been going on at this agency.
It is this kind of sloppy organization that leads to careless situations like the Kingston eco-disaster. And that is not a situation that Mr. Kilgore can just sweep under the rug by sending some email or doling out some other light slap on the wrist. As the AP has reported in recent days:
A third of the people living near the toxic coal ash spill from a TVA power plant in East Tennessee are reporting respiratory problems, and about half have experienced increased stress and anxiety, according to a Tennessee Department of Health survey. Public health staff interviewed 368 residents during January visits to homes within one and a half miles of the Kingston Fossil Plant facility in Roane County. A coal ash pond at the plant burst Dec. 22, spilling 1 billion gallons of coal ash sludge onto nearby land and into the Emory River. No one was killed or seriously injured, but environmental groups said the accident was proof of the danger of lax regulation of coal ash storage.
Look up "lax" in the dictionary. If the top management team of the Tennessee Valley Authority isn't listed there by name, it should be.