Alabama’s only seat on TVA board in jeopardy by Jeff Sessions’ changing fortunes

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Alabama is represented by only a single seat on the Tennessee Valley Authority board — Joe Ritch, a Huntsville attorney.

But Ritch’s TVA board seat could be under fire by the election of Donald Trump and his pick for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Ritch, a Democrat nominated in 2013 by President Obama for a three-year term, is up for another term. Board members elected him chair, a position he currently holds.

Lee Roop of Al.com notes that Ritch’s knowledge of North Alabama and strong leadership has earned him several local supporters, such as Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Jackson County Commission Chair Matthew Hodges and Madison Mayor Paul Finley.

“They cite thousands of new jobs brought to the region and nearly $1 billion in new business investment during his tenure,” Roop writes.

Ritch was instrumental in helping Jackson County rebound from economic damage due to federal policies and court rulings, Hodges said.

Hodges also cited Ritch’s help after federal policies reduced reliance on coal to power TVA plants, which led to the shuttering of Widow’s Creek coal-based power plant and subsequent loss of jobs; Ritch worked to lure a Google data center now operating in the same location.

“They came and I feel like have made an incredible effort to turn things around, to work with us and help us to help ourselves,” Hodges told Al.com. “(Ritch) was chairman of the board at that time. It took an effort from a lot of folks at TVA to make that happen, but you had his leadership.”

“He’s been a very valuable member of the (local economic) team,” Battle added. “He’s the only chair Alabama’s ever had, he’s kept power rates low, and it would be a win-win for the community to keep him there.”

Both Finley and Battle, whose positions are non-partisan, agree that Ritch doesn’t favor a specific Alabama city or the state in general. But someone like him on the board helps keep industry leaders aware that commitments will be kept.

As of now, the Senate is left with only a few weeks to decide if Ritch stays with the TVA. If he is not approved before Congress’ Christmas break, President-elect Trump will name a successor.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe ,determines TVA board members; a committee which Sessions is a member.

Senate rules allow senators to either approve – or block — presidential nominations from their respective states. The first time around, Sessions gave Ritch the thumbs-up. This time, he has not yet said he would.

“We’ve been in a continual conversation with the (entire) Alabama delegation,” Battle told reporters.

If Sessions becomes President Trump’s attorney general  and a replacement for Ritch is chosen, Alabama’s new Republican Senator could have veto power. That is if Trump nominates another Alabamian, and Sessions’ replacement is named to the public works committee.

Alabama is represented on the TVA by someone already approved by Sessions, Roop says local leaders hope it stays that way.

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